Expressing gratitude with coworkers improves stress responses in the heart: study

Story at a glance


  • The study’s results were gathered from an experiment that paired up 200 University of California, San Diego students who lived with their suitemates to imitate relationships between those who spend a good deal of time together but are not personally close, like coworkers. 

  • Each pair was given an “essentially impossible task,” where they had six minutes apiece to produce a design for a bicycle and six minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges.

  • “The experiment is designed to create a maximally stressful environment so we can gauge how gratitude shapes stress response during teamwork because most people spend a third or more of their daily lives at work,” the senior author said.  

Teammates who thanked each other before taking on a high-stress task showed better heart-related stress responses than other groups who did not show similar expressions of gratitude, according to a new experimental study.  

“Our results have meaningful implications for organizations and particularly for employees who work together under acutely stressful conditions to accomplish joint goals,” said Christopher Oveis, senior author of the study, which will be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. 

The authors wrote that the impetus for their study was due to a dearth of research on how gratitude might “impact loose tie relationships,” like coworkers. 

The study’s results were gathered from an experiment that paired up 200 University of California, San Diego students who lived with their suitemates to imitate relationships between those who spend a good deal of time together but are not personally close, like coworkers. 

Each pair was given an “essentially impossible task,” according to Oveis, in which they had six minutes apiece to produce a design for a bicycle and six minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges – a model based on the television series “Shark Tank,” with the winning team receiving $200. 

“The experiment is designed to create a maximally stressful environment so we can gauge how gratitude shapes stress response during teamwork because most people spend a third or more of their daily lives at work,” Oveis added.  


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Participants wore electrodes on their necks and torsos, while also wearing a blood pressure cuff, to test their cardiovascular responses to the stressful assignment. Then teams tasked with showing gratitude were randomly assigned and responses.  

When assigned a challenging task, Oveis said, people react in one of two ways. The challenge response results in a person’s heart pumping out more blood leading to a heightened neurological response.  

“But other people don’t fare as well and instead have a threat response: The heart pumps out less blood, the vasculature constricts, blood flow to periphery is reduced and performance goes down,” Oveis said.  

The researchers found that a simple expression of gratitude effectively eliminated this threat response.  

“Gratitude expressions within work environments may be key to managing our day-to-day stress responses as well optimizing how we respond during high-pressure performance tasks like product pitches, so that we can make our stress responses fuel performance instead of harm it,” Oveis said. “But at their core, gratitude expressions play a fundamental role in strengthening our relationships at work.” 


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