Gratitude Journals Can Promote Feelings of Altruism

A woman writes in a notebook with her pencil.Maintaining a gratitude journal may inspire altruism, according to a study of women published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Research found gratitude journaling produced measurable changes in women’s brains.

Gratitude, Journaling, and Altruism: Understanding the Connection

The study recruited 33 women through an undergraduate psychology email list. The women ranged in age from 18-27. They had no history of neurological or psychiatric diagnoses, and they were not taking psychoactive medications.

For the first part of the study, participants completed questionnaires assessing gratitude and altruism. Then they viewed a hypothetical transaction while connected to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. Participants saw someone either donate money to a food bank or give money to the participants.

Participants who reported more feelings of altruism and gratitude displayed more reward-related brain activity when they witnessed the food bank donation.

Next, researchers asked participants to create an online journal following various prompts. They randomly assigned 16 participants prompts about gratitude. The remaining participants received neutral prompts. Both groups journaled for three weeks.

At the end of the trial, participants underwent another fMRI scan. They viewed another donation scenario and completed questionnaires about gratitude and altruism.

Women who completed gratitude journals said they felt more gratitude and altruism than before. They also showed changes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of their brains. These changes imply the gratitude group had more feelings of reward associated with altruism.

These results suggest that focusing on gratitude may shift people’s attention toward helping others. Journaling in particular may trigger specific brain changes that amplify feelings of altruism and gratitude.

A large volume of positive psychology research has found gratitude is good for people’s bodies and minds. Gratitude has been shown to help people feel better about their lives, encourages them to exercise, and may even improve their health.


  1. Journaling inspires altruism through an attitude of gratitude. (2017, December 14). Science Daily. Retrieved from
  2. Giving thanks can make you happier. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Karns, C. M., Moore, W. E., & Mayr, U. (2017, December 12). The cultivation of pure altruism via gratitude: A functional MRI study of change with gratitude practice. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599

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