Underestimating the power of gratitude – recipients of thank-you letters are more touched than we expect

Ellie Panicola

Aim: Amit Kumar at the University of Texas at Austin and Nicholas Epley at Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago wanted to see what sending thank you notes means to the person the receives it. They wanted to see how much it impacts the person’s everyday life and if they feel happy about it or if it has no effect on them.

Procedure:  The research involved hundreds of participants. Some of the participants were recruited to take part in the psych lab and others online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website. The format through most of the experiments was very similar. Participants were asked to write a letter of thanks through email to someone who had touched their life in a meaningful way, including expressing what the person had done and how it had affected their life. Then, the participants were asked to make various predictions about how the recipient would feel and perceive them. Meanwhile, the researchers made contact with the recipients to find out how they actually felt and what they actually thought.

Results: The senders of the thank-you letters consistently underestimated how positive the recipients felt about receiving the letters and how surprised they were by the content. The senders also overestimated how awkward the recipients felt; and they underestimated how warm, and especially how competent, the recipients perceived them to be. Age and gender made no difference to the pattern of findings. Basically sending thank you letters made the receivers feel good.

Analysis: I like this study because it was a simple study to do and it ended up making people feel good about themselves. Something that I did not like that much was that the procedure was pretty vague in the sense that we didn’t know if males and females were used or just one gender. We also didn’t know the age ranges and how that might affect the results. The results of this study were not surprising to me because usually when someone says something nice or shows a sign that they appreciate you then it will make you feel good.


“Underestimating the Power of Gratitude. Recipients of Thank You Cards are More Touched Than We Expect” Research Digest.

Underestimating the power of gratitude – recipients of thank-you letters are more touched than we expect




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