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Universals and cultural diversity in the expression of gratitude

  • Gratitude is argued to have evolved to motivate and maintain social reciprocity among people, and to be linked to a wide range of positive effects—social, psychological and even physical. But is socially reciprocal behaviour dependent on the expression of gratitude, for example by saying ‘thank you’ as in English? Current research has not included cross-cultural elements, and has tended to conflate gratitude as an emotion with gratitude as a linguistic practice, as might appear to be the case in English. Here, we ask to what extent people express gratitude in different societies by focusing on episodes of everyday life where someone seeks and obtains a good, service or support from another, comparing these episodes across eight languages from five continents. We find that expressions of gratitude in these episodes are remarkably rare, suggesting that social reciprocity in everyday life relies on tacit understandings of rights and duties surrounding mutual assistance and collaboration. At the same time, we also find minor cross-cultural variation, with slightly higher rates in Western European languages English and Italian, showing that universal tendencies of social reciprocity should not be equated with more culturally variable practices of expressing gratitude. Our study complements previous experimental and culture-specific research on gratitude with a systematic comparison of audiovisual corpora of naturally occurring social interaction from different cultures from around the world.

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Author:Simeon Floyd, Giovanni Rossi, Julija Baranova, Joe Blythe, Mark Dingemanse, Kobin H. Kendrick, Jörg ZinkenORCiDGND, N. J. Enfield
Parent Title (English):Royal society open science
Publisher:Royal society publishing
Place of publication:London
Document Type:Article
Year of first Publication:2018
Date of Publication (online):2018/06/04
Tag:assistance; collaboration; cross-cultural; gratitude; reciprocity; social interaction
GND Keyword:Dank; Interaktion; Kontrastive Pragmatik
DDC classes:400 Sprache / 400 Sprache, Linguistik
Open Access?:ja
Leibniz-Classification:Sprache, Linguistik
Linguistics-Classification:Gesprächsforschung / Gesprochene Sprache
Licence (English):License LogoCreative Commons - Attribution 4.0 International