Research by Jane Dutton and Adam Grant cited in TED

January 13, 2017

A TED article by Emily Esfahani Smith drew upon research by Jane Dutton and Adam Grant to clarify how people find meaning in the stories they tell about themselves.

Dutton and Grant’s study, titled Beneficiary or Benefactor: Are People More Prosocial When They Reflect on Receiving or Giving?, identified whether call center employees’ self-identified level of generosity affected their performance. The result was that those who told a story of themselves as benefactors made 30 percent more calls to alumni.

Smith identifies a causal link in this data, saying, “the ability of a story to create meaning does not end with the crafting of the tale. The stories the benefactors told about themselves ultimately led to meaningful behaviors — giving their time in the service of a larger cause.” Smith then concludes, “By subtly reframing their narrative, they adopted a positive identity that led them to live more purposefully.”

Jane Dutton is Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the University of Michigan and co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations. Adam Grant is a member of the Center for Positive Organizations Research Advisory Board, Wharton’s top-rated professor, and author of Originals.