New research has found that grateful people are likely to act virtuously not just for the people who caused them to feel grateful in the first place but for community as well.
According to a conventional belief, individuals tend to act out of self-interest and a drive for personal profit.
However, David DeSteno, Northeastern University associate professor of psychology claims that emotions actually equip individuals to make decisions that foster long-term communal financial gain, even over immediate self-interest.
During the study 85 participants undertook an arduous task. Once it was done, half of the participants were told that, because of a computer glitch, they had to perform the task a second time.
At that point, a "volunteer" (actually one of the study's researchers) seemed to fix the computer, meaning the task did not have to be repeated and creating a sense of gratitude among the individuals in that group.
The other half of the participants-the control group-did not experience the computer glitch.
In the second experiment, both groups played a game in which individuals chose an amount of money they would give to another.
The study showed that participants who felt grateful in the wake of the computer "help" gave away 25 percent more money than those in the control group, leading to a greater shared profit.
Moreover, they did so regardless of whether they had ever met the people, with whom they were playing the game, indicating that their giving was not a simple function of liking or feeling a debt toward others.
"It shows that gratitude shapes decisions toward communal profit, or the social good, even at our immediate expense," said DeSteno.
"We are fair and generous with others not because we think we should be, but because we feel an impulse in our gut that, in the long term, leads to greater stability in social networks.
"In essence gratitude leads to virtue in financial decisions. It makes you pay it forward," he added.