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‘Gratitude reduces stress’ finds new study

30 Jun 2022
A recent research study has found that gratitude between team members can improve their performance in high-stress situations.

The study into the physiological and biological benefits for teams of displays of gratitude has shown they prompt an enhanced cardiovascular response that can lead to increased concentration and confidence, allowing individuals within the team to give their peak performance.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management, was based on a sample of 200 university students who spent time with each other but did not have intimate relationships.

The students were paired in teams to replicate workplace colleagues and given six minutes to create a campus bicycle marketing pitch to present to a panel of judges, in a contest inspired by the format of the TV show, Shark Tank.

Participants wore electrodes on their neck and torso to enable researchers to measure their physiological responses through electrocardiography and impedance cardiography signals.

Their blood pressure was also monitored through an arm cuff. During the study, some teams were asked to express gratitude to their colleague and their biological responses were compared to those teams that did not thank each other during the task.

Commenting on the study, Christopher Oveis, general and associate professor of economics and strategy at the Rady School of Management, and senior author of the study, said: “The experiment was designed to create a highly stressful environment, so we could gauge how gratitude shapes stress response during teamworking.

“When carrying out high-stakes performance tasks, some people rise to the challenge and have an efficient cardiovascular response, known as a challenge response: the heart pumps more blood, the vasculature dilates, blood gets to the periphery, oxygenated blood gets to the brain and cognition fires on all cylinders.

“Other people, however, have a threat response: the heart pumps less blood, the vasculature constricts, blood flow to the periphery is reduced and performance goes down.”

The study found that a single expression of gratitude from a teammate pushed their partner towards adaptive, performance-orientated biological challenge responses.

“Gratitude within work environments may be key to managing our stress responses,” Oveis said. “We can make our stress responses fuel performance instead of harming it.”

The study is due to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.


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