Updated: November 28th, 2022

Gratitude and the “Witnessing Effect”

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire

When people hang out in groups (as people tend to do), they start behaving similarly. Different groups will form different norms and expectations for behavior, which is why we have distinct cultures, cliques, and tribes.

One powerful phenomenon that influences behavior in groups is called the ‘witnessing effect’. Essentially, people watch how others within their group interact and have an emotional reaction to what they see, impacting how they think and feel about themselves. This is a powerful tool for shaping behavior, and it can be used for good.

When we express gratitude to others, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum; other people are watching. They’re watching how we show our gratitude to others and how the recipients of our gratitude respond to us. Research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shown that when a person expresses gratitude towards someone[1], third-party observers feel more positively about that person and are more likely to be kind and helpful toward them.

This means that sharing our gratitude with others is not only good for us and good for them, it is also good for our group. It turns out that everyone benefits from expressions of gratitude!

Gratitude Action Step

This week, be sure to share your gratitude with a friend, family member, or peer, and don’t be afraid to do it in a virtual group setting. Make showing gratitude the norm in your group, one “thank you” at a time.