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old post: gratitude and moral hypocrisy

from July 2012

I recently finished (I hope!) writing a chapter on gratitude (with Courtney Forbes). I'm going to start the blog back up with brief mention of a few of the studies we describe.
You want to be fair, don't you? Can you think of times when being fair was, well, inconvenient? One slice of pie (Happy 4th!) is a bit larger than the other. Do you take it anyway? You and your spouse have to divvy up the chores. Do you choose the easier version? (Hey, honey, you scrub the bathroom. I'll take out the trash!) Do you say you want to be evenhanded in your arguments, but find, if you dare reflect, that you allow yourself to make weak points, but criticize such weakness when you see it in your debate partners? And in each of these cases do you nevertheless claim to be fair?
It's likely easy enough to think of instances when you have been just a bit hypocritical. If you can't perhaps you should try harder? It seems common, per research by Dan Batson and others.For instance, in one study only 1 in 20 participants said it would be fair to assign themselves an appealing task that would offer the chance to win money and assign a stranger to a boring task with no rewards. But...80% gave themselves the appealing task anyway. Participants could flip a coin to decide who gets which. Of those who flipped, 90% gave themselves the appealing task. (Hint: Coins don't come up heads 90% of the time. If they do, call in the cops.)
So what can we do to make people more generous, or at least less inclined to choose themselves over others? Maybe evoke gratitude. Tong and Yang gave Singaporean undergrads a task like the one I described above. Beforehand, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions--no recall or recalling a time they had felt either grateful or proud. 24 of the 30 people in the neutral condition assigned themselves the good task. So did 31 of the 37 in the pride condition. But only 18 of the 39 of those in the grateful condition did.  What of those who opted to flip a coin? 78% of the neutral condition coin flippers and 86% of the pride condition coin flippers gave themselves the favorable task.  But only 36.4% of the coinflippers in the gratitude condition did so. 
So, would you like to be treated fairly? Encourage your friends, loved ones, and random acquaintances to recall a time they have been grateful! Maybe they'll be more likely to give you the larger piece of pie. You might just try recalling times of gratitude yourself--maybe you'll feel less need for that larger piece.
The link below takes you to a brief interview with Mr. Tong, who thanks, among others, Phoebe Ellsworth, who was one of my early mentors. (I didn't know the connection till just now!)He also cites as influences David Hume, the Beatles, and Craig Smith. One of those three is a good friend of mine. I'll let you guess which.
<a href="http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/rising/eddie-tong.html">http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/rising/ed...</a>
And with that, have a happy and safe July 4th. Go ooh and aah periodically in response to the fireworks, and perhaps pause at some point to recall something for which you are grateful.

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