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Gratitude Helps You Cooperate. Does It Also Make You a Sucker?

David DeSteno: Jeremy Yip and colleagues found that within the context of competitive negotiations, those who express gratitude are seen as an easy target. In a series of studies, Yip’s team demonstrated that people often make more aggressive, self-interested offers when negotiating with someone who showed gratitude after an initial offer, because they think they’ll be easier to exploit without repercussion. What they fail to realize, though, is that when interactions aren’t one-offs, grateful people aren’t suckers. They’re not complacent. They expect more moral behavior not only from themselves but from others. And it’s here, in the realm of punishment, that gratitude can prevent repeated exploitation. Third-party punishment — a phenomenon where one person will punish another for transgressions against a third person — has been shown within both lab and real-world contexts to limit exploitation and free riding. Simply put, when punishment is likely, more people tend to fall in line.

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