gratitude, emotions, trickle-down, supervisor, subordinate, social learning


Gratitude is an emotion with a number of positive benefits for both individuals and organizations; however, very little research has addressed the role of leaders in influencing the gratitude of those they lead. Organizational leaders can increase the gratitude levels of the leaders who report to them, who then can influence the gratitude of their own subordinates. This study addresses how the emotion of gratitude can trickle-down through two levels of an organizational hierarchy. There are two potential theories to support such trickle-down effects of gratitude: a behavioral explanation in social learning theory and an affective explanation in gratitude as an emotional contagion. Social learning theory can explain how gratitude trickles via the influence role models (i.e., leaders) have on the behavior of those below them. In addition, gratitude as an emotional contagion can unconsciously increase feelings of gratitude after experiencing gratitude expressions and these feelings of gratitude should increase the spread of gratitude to others. An experimental study design consisting of students acting as supervisors and subordinates evaluating email manipulations was used to test the hypotheses. The results from this study support the idea that gratitude can spread from upper-level leaders to lower levels in an organizational hierarchy. In addition, results suggest that this relationship is positively mediated by role modeling effects supporting the behavioral explanation of trickle-down effects. However, results did not support emotional contagion theory as a mechanism that explains trickle-down effects. Such findings offer important implications as leaders can play a significant role in spreading the positive effects of gratitude throughout their organization.

Completion Date




Committee Chair

Ehrhart, Mark


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Industrial and Organizational Psychology






In copyright

Release Date

May 2029

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Campus-only Access)

Campus Location

Orlando (Main) Campus

Accessibility Status

Meets minimum standards for ETDs/HUTs

Restricted to the UCF community until May 2029; it will then be open access.