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The effects of helper intention on gratitude and indebtedness

by Jo A. Tsang
Motivation and Emotion ()


Gratitude and indebtedness have often been equated in psychology. Emerging research, however, suggests that these emotions are experienced differently and occur in response to different situations (Gray, Emmons, & Morrison, 2001). The current set of experiments investigated the effects of helper intention on grateful and indebted reactions to a favor. Study 1 utilized scenario methodology to present participants with a favor that was given with benevolent or ulterior motives. Participants felt significantly more grateful when the helper had benevolent intentions. Reactions of indebtedness did not vary as a function of helper intention. In Study 2, participants recalled favors that had been done for them for either unselfish or selfish reasons. Participants reported significantly more gratitude for the favor when they were instructed to recall an unselfish favor. Levels of indebtedness were not affected by helper intention. Study 3 provided participants with an ambiguous favor scenario to better assess individuals’ natural reactions to receiving help, and replicated the results of Study 1. Together, these three experiments provide support for differences between grateful and indebted emotions.

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