Inducing a sense of 'awe' could help promote altruistic behavior

A new study has claimed that inducing a sense of awe can boost altruistic and positive social behavior in people.

Washington: A new study has claimed that inducing a sense of awe can boost altruistic and positive social behavior in people.

Lead author, Assistant Professor Paul Piff, PhD, at the University of California, Irvine, said that their research indicated 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.

Awe is that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world. People commonly experience awe in nature, but also in response to religion, art and even music.

The article outlined a series of five studies. In the first, the researchers asked a representative sample of over 1,500 people from across the United States to complete a questionnaire that measured how predisposed they were to experience awe.

Researchers found a significant association between the tendency to experience awe and generosity.

In the other four experiments, the researchers asked groups of people (ranging in size from 75 to 254) to participate in an activity (e.g., watch a video or gaze at something in their environment) designed to elicit awe, a neutral state or another reaction, such as pride or amusement. In every experiment, awe was significantly associated with pro-social behaviors.

Piff said that when experiencing awe, people may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like they were 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 pro-social behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others.

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

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