Research examines gratitude

Glenn Fox, a postdoctoral researcher at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, led a study to investigate gratitude in the face of dire circumstances.

In order to do so, Fox’s team conducted a brain-scan of 23 study subjects who had no personal relationship with the Holocaust while exposing them to survivor’s stories, according to USC News. These testimonials, provided by the USC Shoah Foundation, showcased instances of generosity and gratitude among survivors.

In order to immerse the study subjects in the Holocaust, the research team showed them brief documentaries that explored the rise of Nazism, persecution, internment camps, the Final Solution and the Allied Liberation.

Then the researchers presented subjects more than 50 second-person scenarios based on survivors’ stories. Researchers finally asked the subjects to rate the “depth of their gratitude” in these situations.

According to USC News, researchers found that feelings of gratitude activated brain areas responsible for moral cognition, fairness, economic decision-making and subjective value judgments. In addition, the subjects commented on how the study had led them to a deeper comprehension of the Holocaust.

Participants said they walked away with a better understanding of the Holocaust.

Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith also expressed the importance of preserving “the voices of people who lived through these dark times,” as they show, among other things, the power of generosity to help individuals “hold on to their humanity.”

The study was published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology on Sept. 30. The study’s co-authors were Jonas Kaplan, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and Hannah Damasio, a professor of neurology and psychology and the co-director of BCI.

The study was funded by the Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundations, the Shoah Foundation and a dissertation research award from the Greater Good Science Center’s Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude Initiative.