CAS research projects

Gratitude research at CAS

As you know, there have been a number of research projects with CAS students that address the issue of gratitude. In research around the world, researchers are learning about the central role that gratitude plays in well-being in both children and adults.

When asked to describe a recent experience of gratitude, CAS students often recalled instances of social support and assistance from friends, family, and teachers. Gratitude for material possessions was quite rare. In contrast to the U.S. youth who focused on the benefits they received from others and how those benefits made them feel special, Guatemalan adolescents emphasized reciprocity. They shared that they planned to pay back those who helped them or that they planned to pay the kindness forward to someone else.

In one project, students wrote about what they were grateful for in a journal for 10 days. Although most international research suggests that daily reflection on gratitude increases well-being, the gratitude intervention did not increase well-being for CAS students or for students from another Guatemalan school where students were economically disadvantaged. We do not know why, but we are thinking that perhaps gratitude is already so prevalent in Guatemala that this exercise was not powerful enough to increase the gratitude that students were already feeling.

In another study CAS students reflected on their greatest wish and what they would do for the person who granted that wish. Older students showed more connective gratitude, an advanced type of gratitude that takes into account the perspective of the benefactor (the person who does something kind for you). For example, the student might repay his or her benefactor with a gift that the benefactor would like, “I know she likes chocolate so I will give her a box of chocolate as a way to show my gratitude.” The younger participants said they would show gratitude by saying “thank you” or by doing something kind for the benefactor without taking that person’s wishes under consideration (e.g., “I really like teddy bears, so I am going to give him a teddy bear.”) Younger children who received unexpected money would buy gifts for others, whereas older students were more likely to save money for the future.

In all of our studies, it is clear that CAS students are grateful for the people in their lives and the opportunities they have to learn. In addition, the more senior students are able to understand others’ perspectives and preferences and to think about their futures.