The human mind tends to excessively discount the value of delayed rewards relative to immediate ones, and it is thought that “hot” affective processes drive desires for short-term gratification. Supporting this view, recent findings demonstrate that sadness exacerbates financial impatience even when the sadness is unrelated to the economic decision at hand. Such findings might reinforce the view that emotions must always be suppressed to combat impatience. But if emotions serve adaptive functions, then certain emotions might be capable of reducing excessive impatience for delayed rewards. We found evidence supporting this alternative view. Specifically, we found that (a) the emotion gratitude reduces impatience even when real money is at stake, and (b) the effects of gratitude are differentiable from those of the more general positive state of happiness. These findings challenge the view that individuals must tamp down affective responses through effortful self-regulation to reach more patient and adaptive economic decisions.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Gratitude reduces economic impatience.
Whenever I come across yet another self-help laundry list of useful tricks for feeling better, and try a few, I repeatedly find that briefly following instructions to practice feeling gratitude has a very salutary, calming, effect...taking the edge off any impatience I might be feeling. DeSteno et al. look at this in a more systematic way, distinguishing the effect of gratitude from more positive global emotions of happiness with respect impatience, or short-term gratification. 75 study participants were split in three groups with different emotion-induction conditions: being asked to write brief essays on experiences of feeling grateful, happy, or neutral. They then made choices between receiving smaller cash amounts (ranging from $11 to $80) immediately and larger cash amounts (ranging from $25 to $85) at a point from 1 week to 6 months in the future. Their results clearly revealed that gratitude reduces excessive economic impatience (the temporal discounting of future versus immediate rewards) compared with the neutral and happy conditions, which were about equal. Here is their abstract: