The relationship between Chinese college students’ level of gratitude, moral judgment development and indebtedness on prosocial outcomes
Gratitude as an important construct of moral emotions drew great attentions of scholars’ across the world in the last few decades. In Asian cultures, especially Chinese culture, gratitude is one of the moral norms that have been discussed since the ancient time. Gratitude, which involves one’s reasoning process, was reported to promote prosocial tendencies or behavioral responses (Zhao, 2010; Cohen, 2012; McCullough & Tsang, 2004a). Moral judgment, which enables individuals to tell what is right, may affect gratitude and prosocial outcomes through the reasoning process. However, few empirical studies addressed the relationship between moral judgment and gratitude. Furthermore, the previous study found only indebtedness, which is stem from gratitude, was significantly correlated with moral judgment indices (Liu & Thoma, 2013). Therefore, it was reasonable to examine how moral judgment affects gratitude and prosocial outcomes through indebtedness. This study attempted to examine if three manifestations formed gratitude as one latent variable, to determine the relationship between gratitude and prosocial outcomes; to test how moral judgment and indebtedness worked together by forming a cluster variable; and to figure out if moral judgment and indebtedness influenced gratitude and prosocial outcomes. Three manifestations of gratitude were measured by three scales respectively. Emotional gratitude, emotional indebtedness, and behavioral responses were measured after participants recalled their most grateful experiences. The results revealed that three manifestations can be merged to measure gratitude as one single latent variable. Gratitude was found to significantly influence helping tendencies only in the path model. The k-means clustering method was used to group moral judgment and indebtedness indices and k = 3 was identified as an ideal option. In the moderation model, the interaction effect was reported to be significant which indicated that moral judgment and indebtedness did moderate the way how gratitude affected prosocial outcomes. Cluster MN and P were reported to have significant interaction effects. It meant that grateful people, who preferred Maintaining Norms schema and Post-conventional schema, tend to help others. Alternatively, for those who preferred personal interest schema, their gratitude and prosocial outcomes were not related.