To “See” Is to Feel Grateful? A Quasi-Signal Detection Analysis of Romantic Partners’ Sacrifices

Mariko L. Visserman*, Emily A. Impett, Francesca Righetti, Amy Muise, Dacher Keltner, Paul A.M. Van Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although gratitude plays a central role in the quality of relationships, little is known about how gratitude emerges, such as in response to partners’ sacrifices. Do people need to accurately see these acts to feel grateful? In two daily experience studies of romantic couples (total N = 426), we used a quasi-signal detection paradigm to examine the prevalence and consequences of (in)accurately “seeing” and missing partners’ sacrifices. Findings consistently showed that sacrifices are equally likely to be missed as they are to be accurately detected, and about half of the time people “see” a sacrifice when the partner declares none. Importantly, “seeing” partners’ sacrifices—accurately or inaccurately—is crucial for boosting gratitude. In contrast, missed sacrifices fail to elicit gratitude, and the lack of appreciation negatively colors the partner’s satisfaction with the relationship when having sacrificed. Thus, these findings illustrate the power that perception holds in romantic couples’ daily lives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-325
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • detection
  • gratitude
  • relationship satisfaction
  • sacrifice


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