Photo: Ro Irving on flickr
A seriously cool study is coming out later this year in Psychological Science on the benefits of awe [pdf].Awe, which describes a “feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder” and comes from the old Norse word for “terror,” seems like a strange subject for research, but its benefits are clear.
Lead author Melanie Rudd of Stanford University concluded that awe expands people’s perception of time, enhances well-being and causes people to behave more altruistically and less materialistically.
How did they stimulate awe? Rudd explained over email:
The methods that were the most effective at stimulating awe were those that presented participants with a “new” awe experience (i.e., having participants watch the awe-eliciting commercial). Remembering a past awe-eliciting experience and reading about an imaginary awe-eliciting experience (i.e., the short story) also elicited awe, but relatively less compared to when participants experienced a “fresh” and “real” awe experience.
How can we stimulate awe and its benefits in our daily life? Rudd explains:
There are two things needed for a true awe experience: 1) Perceptual vastness (i.e., you need to perceive that you’ve encountered something vast in number, size, scope, complexity, or social bearing) and 2) A need for accommodation (i.e., you must feel that you need to revise or update your mental structures/the way you think/your understanding of the world in order to understand the perceptually vast thing/stimuli). So anything you experience in daily life that leads you to experience these two things can stimulate awe and its benefits. And the things that elicit these two things and, as a result, awe, can differ from person to person. However, there are some things that seem to more frequently elicit awe—experiencing nature, being exposed to art or music, and observing the accomplishments of others. Things like social interactions and personal accomplishments seem to be less likely to elicit awe. And I imagine that just putting yourself in new situations, in new places, and encountering new people would increase your chances of experiencing awe.
Rudd declined to comment on whether marijuana was an effective ways to stimulate awe, as has been speculated by Michael Pollan and others.
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