Network Research Highlight: Measuring Hospitality

Work Science Center Network Member, Kostadin Kushlev, and a team of co-researchers noticed something strange in psychological literature: where were the studies on hospitality? As they combed through indices of flourishing, instruments for well-being, they found staggeringly little attention paid to this universal and cross-cutting phenomenon. Despite the fact that all people across time, every culture, and every demographic has practiced hospitality, only scraps of research emerged. Even more, they found few tools to investigate hospitality.

Responding to this chasm, they created a working definition of hospitality, and they created the Brief Hospitality Scale (BHS), a measure of hospitality. Hospitality, they reason in their paper, consists of two key elements. The first is the act of a host receiving a guest into their own territory. The territory could be an office, a home, or other location — the factor distinguishing it is that the host has ownership and sway over the place, but the guest does not. Secondly, they noted that hospitality involves welcome. The social and emotional goal of hospitality is to foster relaxation and positivity while the two members interact. It’s intimate, in that both parties see and know each other.

Once they outlined the parameters of hospitality, they set to work finding a way to analyze it. The research team collected a group of sixty-eight potential items to tap into hospitality, whittling the list down to a final twenty-three. The measure accounted for the way hospitality impacts people’s senses of self, affect, self-esteem, and their perception of how much effort it takes to demonstrate hospitality. In an initial study, they validated the measure on a group of Americans, and assessed the overall well-being in relation to hospitality. They also scrutinized this group of American’s attitudes about hospitality. Overall, respondents valued hospitality and saw it positively. People who scored higher on the BHS also tended to show more hospitable behaviors.

After this initial study, the researchers extended the measure to other nations to see what the scale would capture. They noticed that each of the eleven nations they surveyed had similar views to the Americans; they held hospitality in a positive light. However, they noticed that respondents from the Middle East and Latin America said it was significantly more important than other nations like Australia and Singapore. These attitudes correlated with the actual hospitable behavior the nations demonstrated.

Perhaps most notably, the researchers found that hospitality consistently predicted all forms of well-being. While this study couldn’t conclude the nature of that association, they urge psychologists to conduct further study on it. Finally, those psychologists have a tool with which to do so.

Biswas-Diener, R., Kushlev, K., Su, R., Goodman, F., Kashdan, T., & Diener, E. (2019). Assessing and understanding hospitality: The Brief Hospitality Scale. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9 (2), 14-26. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v9i2.839

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