Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #188
Promoting Gratuity and Subjective Well-Being: Applications of Behavioral Science for Positive Psychology
Sunday, May 26, 2024
8:00 AM–8:50 AM
Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Grand Ballroom Salon CD
Area: OBM; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: E. Scott Geller (Virginia Tech)

This symposium will present three applied behavioral science studies that assessed the impact of practical interventions designed to boost expressions of gratitude in naturalistic settings, and revealed situational factors that influence expressions of interpersonal gratitude. For the first field study, pedestrian behavior was observed at two crosswalks on a university campus to assess the frequency of pedestrians waving to express gratitude to the drivers of stopped vehicles. A sign at the crosswalk with the prompt, “Please Thank Drivers with a Wave,” significantly increased the overall percentages of gratitude waves. The second study examined occurrences of interpersonal gratitude on campus buses. Behavioral observations evidenced that passengers were more inclined to express interpersonal gratitude when the bus driver made a prosocial remark. However, the frequency of a passenger expressing gratitude decreased significantly as the number of departing passengers increased. For the third study, students thanked their instructors after class with a customized “Thank You Card” (TYC), and recorded their subjective wellbeing (SWB) before and after delivering the TYC. Comparing the SWB of TYC benefactors to students who did not express gratitude to the instructor when leaving class revealed significantly higher SWB among those students who used the TYC to express gratitude.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Positive Psychology, Subjective Well-Being

Naturalistic Observations of Interpersonal Gratitude: Relative Impact of Modeling Versus Diffusion of Responsibility

EVAN ALVAREZ (Virginia Tech), Nadinka Taylor (Virginia Tech), Emma Marshall (Virginia Tech), Sydia Pearson (Virginia Tech), Bella Molina (Virginia Tech), Jack Wardale (Virginia Tech), E. Scott Geller (Virginia Tech)

This ongoing study has been comparing the differential behavioral influence of two notable psychological theories—observational learning and diffusion of responsibility. Observational learning predicts individuals will take cues from the actions of others and model relevant behavior. In contrast, diffusion of responsibility predicts that people will be less likely to take responsibility for the welfare or wellbeing of another person if others are available to actively care. This field study has been observing expressions of interpersonal gratitude between drivers and passengers on campus buses. For three semesters, trained undergraduate researchers have been recording whether passengers thank bus drivers as they disembark, and whether a “Thank you” is influenced by the drivers exhibiting prosocial behavior (e.g., saying “Have a nice day!”). Behavior analysis is ongoing and comparing the relative impact of observational learning vs. diffusion of responsibility. Systematic observations have indicated that a kind remark from the driver significantly increased expressions of gratitude from exiting passengers. While 68.8% of 5,347 passengers followed a driver’s kind remarks with a “Thank You,” those passengers exiting after this passenger were unlikely to express gratitude, supporting diffusion of responsibility over modeling or observational learning. Naturalistic behavioral observations are ongoing and additional findings will be reported.


Increasing Pedestrian-to-Driver Gratitude at Crosswalks: A Cost-Effective Prompting Intervention

JACK WARDALE (Virginia Tech), Michael Angelo Harrigan (Virginia Tech), Tyler R Parker-Rollins (Virginia Tech), E. Scott Geller (Virginia Tech)

For 21 consecutive weeks, research students observed and recorded pedestrian-to-driver signs of gratitude at two crosswalks on the Virginia Tech campus. One observer randomly selected a vehicle that stopped for pedestrians. That selection was then relayed to a second reliability observer. These observers recorded the observations independently that included counting the number of pedestrians crossing in front of the vehicle and the number of those pedestrians who gave a hand-signal of gratitude. After 11 weeks of Baseline, a student held a sign at each crosswalk that read, “Please Thank Drivers with a Wave,” as shown in Figure 2. Following this Intervention, the same prompting sign was placed on a stand at the crosswalks for six consecutive weeks (i.e., Intervention 2). Figure 3 depicts the percentage of pedestrians who exhibited gratitude at the crosswalks per phase. During 11 weeks of Baseline, the percentage of pedestrians who showed gratitude was 7.1% of 40,510 pedestrians. During the first Intervention phase, gratitude waves increased to 26% of 1650 pedestrians. During the second intervention stage, the percentage of gratitude waves decreased to 15% of 14,536 pedestrians. A Withdrawal phase at the two crosswalks showed a return to Baseline, with 5.7% of 49,280 pedestrians showing gratitude.

Thank You Professor: Evaluating the Effects of Interpersonal Kindness on Mood States
ANASTASIA SEMENOVA (Virginia Tech ), Tyler R Parker-Rollins (Virginia Tech), Jack Wardale (Virginia Tech), E. Scott Geller (Virginia Tech)
Abstract: This study assessed the impact on a student’s mood states after delivering a customized thank-you card (TYC) to a professor. Two students from a university class – a research student and a randomly-selected classmate – delivered a TYC as benefactors of personal gratitude. Both benefactors, as well as a third randomly-selected student (Control group), completed mood surveys before and after the class. This survey employed a semantic differential scale with 15 contrasting pairs of mood states (e.g., sad vs. happy) rated from 1 (extremely negative) to 10 (extremely positive). The TYCs also included a space for the students (the benefactors) to express personal words of appreciation to their professor/instructor. Qualitative analysis revealed uniformly positive emotions from all instructors (the beneficiaries) and from each of the 64 participants (the benefactors) who delivered a TYC. Quantitative analysis demonstrated a significant 36% increase in students' overall positive mood states after delivering a TYC to their professor/instructor, demonstrating the beneficial impact of expressing interpersonal gratitude. The mood states of the control students—those who did not deliver a TYC—did not change significantly from the beginning to the end of class. The significance of expressing gratitude for enhancing subjective well-being (SWB) was clearly revealed.



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