The Harmful Side of Thanks: Thankful Responses to High-Power Group Help Undermine Low-Power Groups' Protest

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2020 May;46(5):794-807. doi: 10.1177/0146167219879125. Epub 2019 Oct 9.


Giving thanks has multiple psychological benefits. However, within intergroup contexts, thankful responses from low-power to high-power group members could solidify the power hierarchy. The other-oriented nature of grateful expressions could mask power differences and discourage low-power group members from advocating for their ingroup interests. In five studies (N = 825), we examine the novel idea of a potentially harmful side of "thanks," using correlational and experimental designs and a follow-up. Across different contexts, expressing thanks to a high-power group member who transgressed and then helped undermined low-power group members' protest intentions and actual protest. Thus, the expression of thanks can pacify members of low-power groups. We offer insights into the underlying process by showing that forgiveness of the high-power benefactor and system justification mediate this effect. Our findings provide evidence for a problematic side of gratitude within intergroup relations. We discuss social implications.

Keywords: expressions of thanks; forgiveness; intergroup helping; protest; system justification.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Forgiveness
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Young Adult