A recent study suggests that a simple gratitude exercise can encourage prosocial behavior during the pandemic. The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, revealed that people who reflected on things they felt grateful for during the pandemic later indicated a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors related to the crisis, such as offering help to others and donating food and supplies to those in need.
As COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world, emergency public health measures were implemented on a global scale. While a large-scale crisis such as this one is bound to have negative consequences on the mental and physical health of citizens, study authors Raquel Oliveira and her team say there are ways to mitigate this harm.
It has been suggested that prosociality can help alleviate the psychological harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic, offering mental health benefits for both those providing and receiving support. Oliveira and team propose that a sense of solidarity and community might help people regulate their emotions during the crisis.
The study authors wanted to see whether an exercise in gratitude might leave people more inclined toward prosocial behavior during the pandemic. They proposed that gratitude should impact prosociality by boosting positive affect, reducing negative affect, and increasing empathy.
“People’s ability to find things to be grateful for, even in the most adverse situations, is nothing short of remarkable,” Oliveira and colleagues say. “In [our] paper, we sought to leverage this ability by evaluating the effectiveness of a brief reflexive writing exercise in promoting prosocial behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The researchers distributed a questionnaire among 533 residents of Brazil and Portugal who were between the ages of 18 and 82. At the start of the survey, the subjects were split into two groups. In the gratitude condition, participants spent 3 minutes reflecting on recent experiences that made them feel grateful during the pandemic. In the control condition, participants spent 3 minutes reflecting on tasks they had worked on during the previous week.
The subjects then rated the extent that they felt five negative and five positive emotions, as well as the extent that they felt “grateful”, “thankful”, and “appreciative.” The participants also rated how much empathic concern they felt towards people vulnerable to the coronavirus and rated their intention to engage in five prosocial behaviors in the next weeks.
The researchers found that the gratitude exercise did not have a direct effect on participants’ intention to engage in prosocial behaviors. However, the gratitude exercise was indirectly linked to improved prosocial behavior through the following pathway: the gratitude reflection was tied to increased state gratitude, which led to increased positive affect and empathic concern, which then led to increased prosocial behavior.
The authors say their findings are important in terms of the global fight against the coronavirus, noting that the successful navigation of the pandemic is still dependent on collective effort to adhere to protective health measures. They call the gratitude reflection a “do-it-yourself, cost-effective strategy to increase prosocial behaviors during the pandemic.”
The study, “The Impact of Writing About Gratitude on the Intention to Engage in Prosocial Behaviors During the COVID-19 Outbreak”, was authored by Raquel Oliveira, Aíssa Baldé, Marta Madeira, Teresa Ribeiro, and Patrícia Arriaga.