Awe and Altruism

Via Science Daily:

‘”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,” said Paul Piff, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

‘”When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you’re at the center of the world anymore,” Piff said. “By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in pro-social behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others.”

‘While the findings supported the researchers’ initial hypothesis, the scientists were surprised at how consistently different types of awe and different elicitors of awe were able to promote cooperative behavior. In one experiment, they elicited awe by showing droplets of colored water falling into a bowl of milk in slow motion. In another, they elicited a negative form of awe using a montage of threatening natural phenomena, such as tornadoes and volcanoes. In a final experiment, the researchers induced awe by situating participants in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees.

‘”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 pro-social fashion,” said Piff. “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.”‘

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