Why Awe Is Awesome

Dec 29 2013 @ 1:33pm

Cayte Bosler unpacks a study that “shows there are residual health benefits to having your mind blown”:

“People increasingly report feeling time-starved, which exacts a toll on health and well-being,” states the study. Using three experiments, researchers Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of the Stanford University, and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota, examined whether awe can expand perceptions of time availability. They found that participants “who felt awe, relative to other emotions, felt they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, and more strongly preferred experiences over material goods.”

It can be hard to generalize what people consider jaw-dropping, but Vohs says research demonstrates what consistently creates an awesome experience. Travel ranks high. So does gazing at the cosmos on a clear night or watching a sensational film, as well as anytime we encounter massive quantities: colorful tulips in bloom, a bustling market in India, or a stunning school of fish. Novelty and perceptual vastness forces us into the present moment. The study underscores the importance of cultivating small doses of awe in the everyday to boost life satisfaction.

More on how “awe” works:

“The experience of awe is one where you are temporarily off-kilter in terms of your understanding of the world,” explains Vohs. “People mostly walk around with a sense of knowing what is going on in the world. They have hypotheses about the way people behave and what might happen; those are pretty air-tight. It is hard to get people to shake from those because that’s just how the brain works. We are always walking around trying to confirm the things we already think. When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and as a consequence, we think people might be ready to learn new things and have some of their assumptions questioned.”