Unconditional Offers to Help Demonstrate More Gratitude


When participants had the chance to help other players in a simulation involving real money, they often chose to do so unconditionally instead of with strings attached, according to a PLOS One study.

Thank You Note

Recipients of unconditional offers experienced greater gratitude and were more eager to reciprocate in a game designed to label participants as helpers or recipients, according to research published in PLOS One.

Researchers from the US and the UK collaborated to document fair behaviors among 122 adult participants, 72 of which were females with a median age of 21 years. Each participant was given an inconvenience allowance of £2 ($3.27) and was given an opportunity to earn up to an additional £3.50 ($5.72) in a one shot, double anonymous game.

Half of the participants played as potential helpers (P1s) and half acted as recipients (P2s). P1s decided whether to help P2s and whether to make their help unconditional, where no repayment was needed, or conditional, with full or taxed repayment. P2s then decided whether to accept the offer and whatever conditions were attached, but were blinded to the list of helping options which was available to P1s.

The researchers “anticipated that recipients would refer to the ‘injunctive norm’ that ‘fair people should help “for free” when it is only by chance that they are in a position to help;’” however, recipients of unconditional offers, compared to conditional ones, interpreted the helpers’ motives as more helpful, experienced greater gratitude, and were more eager to reciprocate.

More than a third (38%) of recipients of conditional offers defaulted when the option was given. The authors considered these 8 participants who defaulted especially interesting because only 1 paid $0, while the other 7 defaulters on average repaid 58% of their expected payment.

“Conditionality of an offer of help alone, when the recipient is not aware of the options open to the helper, can significantly influence how recipients interpreted the helpers’ intentions, as well as the recipients’ feelings of gratitude, and their tendency to be willing to reciprocate,” the authors concluded. “The results show that the greater the perceptions of the donors’ intentions to be helpful (influenced by conditionality of the offer) the greater the level of gratitude towards them, and resulting in a greater tendency to reciprocate.”

The researchers continued by saying that even though recipients lacked awareness of the donors’ options, participants still relied on the belief of what an average “fair” individual should do when an opportunity to help was presented and determined by chance.

Researchers in this study also acknowledged that participants tended to prefer “kind” people with a good reputation, which was indicated by the lack of willingness to reciprocate.

“Reputation can be inferred from very minimal information — the conditionality of help only,” they wrote.

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