In a press release, Paul Piff described his research on awe saying: Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function.
By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others. When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you're at the center of the world anymore.
By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in prosocial behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others. Across all these different elicitors of awe, we found the same sorts of effects—people felt smaller, less self-important, and behaved in a more prosocial fashion.
Might awe cause people to become more invested in the greater good, giving more to charity, volunteering to help others, or doing more to lessen their impact on the environment? Our research would suggest that the answer is yes. The inside of a daffodil can be awe inspiring. As a kid, I was awestruck by the scope of towering skyscrapers as I walked around the streets of Manhattan. Photographs never capture the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon. I slept on a futon in the back of the car.
Do you have songs that remind you of being in awe or a sense of wonder? In Secular and Religious Experience. How would you describe it?
In his work, Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences, Abraham Maslow demystified what were considered to be supernatural , mystical or religious experiences and made them more secular and mainstream.
Each of us can tap into the power of nature and be awestruck if given the opportunity. In the presence of Nature a wild delight runs through the man in spite of real sorrow.
Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight.
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all. William James had an inkling that hiking the Adirondacks would prime him for an epiphany and type of conversion experience.
Teresa, the Spanish mystic; al-Ghazali, the Islamic philosopher. Muir was obsessed with botany at college and filled his dorm room with gooseberry bushes, wild plum, posies and peppermint plants to feel closer to nature indoors. Our camp grove fills and thrills with the glorious light. Everything awakening alert and joyful.
Every pulse beats high, every cell life rejoices, the very rocks seem to thrill with life. The whole landscape glows like a human face in a glory of enthusiasm. The mountains, the trees, the air were, effused, joyful, wonderful, enchanting, banishing weariness and a sense of time. It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse.
As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armor themselves against wonder. Living close to the National Seashore and wilderness on Cape Cod makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself that puts the human experience in perspective in a way that makes me feel humbled and blessed. Awe arises in evanescent experiences. Looking up at the starry expanse of the night sky. Gazing out across the blue vastness of the ocean.
Feeling amazed at the birth and development of a child. Protesting at a political rally or watching a favorite sports team live. Many of the experiences people cherish most are triggers of the emotion we focused on here—awe. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forego strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.
Future research should build on these initial findings to further uncover the ways in which awe shifts people away from being the center of their own individual worlds, toward a focus on the broader social context and their place within it. If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts: