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Co-worker gratitude may help our hearts react better to stress

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Study participants wore heart monitors and a blood pressure cuff during the high-stress experiment. Photo: University of California San Diego

San Diego — Saying “thank you” and expressing other forms of gratitude to co-workers can lead to better cardiovascular response in high-stress situations, results of a recent study show.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego divided 190 students into teams. Each team was given six minutes to create a product pitch and marketing plan for a bicycle that other students could ride on campus. They were given another six minutes to present that product pitch and marketing plan to a panel of judges, with the winning team receiving $200.

“It’s essentially an impossible task,” senior researcher Christopher Oveis, an associate professor of economics and strategy at the university, said in a press release. “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 teams were randomly assigned to either express gratitude among their members or not express any gratitude. The participants’ biological responses – recorded via electrodes on their neck and torso and a blood pressure cuff on their arm – were then compared.

While developing the pitch and marketing plan, members of the control teams had decreased blood flow and an increase in constricted blood vessels. An expression of gratitude eliminated those responses. Additionally, teammates who expressed gratitude to each other showed improved blood flow while presenting to the judges.

 

Oveis and his fellow researchers note that repeated exposure to stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and weakened immunity.

“Gratitude expressions within work environments may be key to managing our day-to-day stress responses as well as 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. But at their core, gratitude expressions play a fundamental role in strengthening our relationships at work.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

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