How Do Differing Modes of Adolescents' Understanding and Expressions of Gratitude relate to their Maturity and Adaptiveness

Indrawati Liauw
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Studies on gratitude in adolescents fall largely into the following key areas – the measurement and quantification of gratitude, the personal and interpersonal benefits associated with gratitude, and interventions that foster gratitude. However, less is known about the emergence and development of gratitude. While researchers have advanced the notion that children’s ability to attribute responsibility for positive outcomes and desire to do good to their benefactors solidify around the ages of 7 to 10, we know little about the qualitative nature of gratitude in youth. Using mixed methods analyses of interview and survey data, this study describes the different modes in which youth regard and express gratitude, and present evidence for how these differences associate with self-report survey measures on well-being and social adaptation. Based on these analyses, the authors posit that some modes of understanding and expressing gratitude at this stage of adolescence are more adaptive than others.

This paper is part of a larger study on character development to examine gratitude and four other character strengths in eighth-grade students. A total of 90 students in public, private and charter schools in Pennsylvania and California were interviewed in person using a semi-structured interview protocol. On gratitude, students were asked whether they experience gratitude, what makes them grateful, how they express gratitude and whether it was important for them to show appreciation to their benefactors. These participants also completed a web-based questionnaire at school. The survey measures include measures on gratitude, open-minded thinking, positive and negative affects, coping, and others.

To support the claim that the modes of understanding and expressing gratitude differ in social adaptation, the paper will present the distributions of modes of approach to gratitude in the interview subsample (as coded from the interviews), and their relationships with key indicators of well-being and adaptation. The interviews were coded using open coding to explore how youth value and express gratitude. Analyses of the interviews reveal distinctive, reliably code-able differences in the ways 8th graders understand the meaning of gratitude and their expressions of gratitude. Triangulation with survey data reveals that these differing modes of understanding and expressing gratitude associate to different extents with indicators of well-being and social adaptation as indicated from the survey responses of the interviewees.

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