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R Soc Open Sci. 2018 May 23;5(5):180391. doi: 10.1098/rsos.180391. eCollection 2018 May.

Universals and cultural diversity in the expression of gratitude.

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Department of Anthropology, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Diego de Robles, Quito 170157, Ecuador.
Language and Cognition Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Wundtlaan 1, Nijmegen 6525XD, The Netherlands.
Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian, and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki, Vuorikatu 3A, Helsinki 00100, Finland.
Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Macquarie Walk, North Ryde, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia.
Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK.
Department of Pragmatics, Institute for the German Language in Mannheim, R5 6-13, Mannheim 68161, Germany.
Department of Linguistics, The University of Sydney, John Woolley Building A20, Science Road, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


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.


assistance; collaboration; cross-cultural; gratitude; reciprocity; social interaction

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