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Awe, a complex emotion composed by the appraisal components of vastness and need for accommodation, is a profound and often meaningful experience. Despite its importance, psychologists have only recently begun empirical study of awe. At the experimental level, a main issue concerns how to elicit high intensity awe experiences in the lab. To address this issue, Virtual Reality (VR) has been proposed as a potential solution. Here, we considered the highest realistic form of VR: immersive videos. 42 participants watched at immersive and normal 2D videos displaying an awe or a neutral content. After the experience, they rated their level of awe and sense of presence. Participants’ psychophysiological responses (BVP, SC, sEMG) were recorded during the whole video exposure. We hypothesized that the immersive video condition would increase the intensity of awe experienced compared to 2D screen videos. Results indicated that immersive videos significantly enhanced the self-reported intensity of awe as well as the sense of presence. Immersive videos displaying an awe content also led to higher parasympathetic activation. These findings indicate the advantages of using VR in the experimental study of awe, with methodological implications for the study of other emotions.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 1218 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-01242-0
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Eectiveness of Immersive Videos
in Inducing Awe: An Experimental
Study
Alice Chirico1, Pietro Cipresso
2, David B. Yaden
3, Federica Biassoni1, Giuseppe Riva1,2 &
Andrea Gaggioli1,2
Awe, a complex emotion composed by the appraisal components of vastness and need for
accommodation, is a profound and often meaningful experience. Despite its importance, psychologists
have only recently begun empirical study of awe. At the experimental level, a main issue concerns
how to elicit high intensity awe experiences in the lab. To address this issue, Virtual Reality (VR) has
been proposed as a potential solution. Here, we considered the highest realistic form of VR: immersive
videos. 42 participants watched at immersive and normal 2D videos displaying an awe or a neutral
content. After the experience, they rated their level of awe and sense of presence. Participants’
psychophysiological responses (BVP, SC, sEMG) were recorded during the whole video exposure. We
hypothesized that the immersive video condition would increase the intensity of awe experienced
compared to 2D screen videos. Results indicated that immersive videos signicantly enhanced the self-
reported intensity of awe as well as the sense of presence. Immersive videos displaying an awe content
also led to higher parasympathetic activation. These ndings indicate the advantages of using VR in the
experimental study of awe, with methodological implications for the study of other emotions.
e sight of stars, the image of earth from orbit, or witnessing childbirth are all experiences oen elicit the emo-
tion of awe. Awe is associated with deep feelings of wonder, astonishment, and sometimes fear – it can be both
pleasurable and uncomfortable or overwhelming13. Awe is oen involved when individuals face something that
forces them to adjust their mental schema and to look for new patterns1, 4. According to Keltner and Haidt1 awe is
induced by stimuli that are both vast and dicult to accommodate. Awe stimuli include vast and grand panora-
mas and sweeping vistas, as well as “grand theories” or big ideas.
Psychological study of awe has begun relatively recently. One of the main challenges concerning the experi-
mental study of awe is the question of how to induce an intense feeling of this emotion in controlled settings5, 6.
Previous research has suggested that the intensity of the induced emotion changes according to the specic
induction procedure7. Recently, virtual reality (VR) has been proposed as a new technique to induce awe5. VR
oers several theoretical advantages for eliciting and investigating high-intensity awe experiences. First, previous
research has shown that VR-based perceptual stimulations – such as visual, auditorial, tactile and, when feasible,
olfactive - can trigger strong emotional reactions810. Furthermore, VR is known to convey a sense of presence
- the feeling of “being there” within an environment11, 12 – which has been found positively associated with the
intensity of emotions experienced by participants8, 9, 13. From a methodological viewpoint, VR oers high degree
of ecological validity: it allows researchers to simulate real-life contexts and situations, which can be used to study
participants’ behaviours in highly-controlled laboratory conditions.
Here we tested the potential of immersive videos - the highest realistic form of Virtual Reality that excludes the
dimensions of navigation14 - in inducing awe. We compared psychological and physiological responses to immer-
sive displays of both awe inducing and neutral stimuli with the same content displayed on normal 2D screens.
We hypothesized that immersive videos would be more eective than 2D screens at inducing awe, as measured
through self-report and physiological measures.
1Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Department of Psychology, Largo Gemelli, 1, 20123, Milan, Italy. 2IRCCS Istituto
Auxologico Italiano, Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab, via Magnasco, 2, 20149, Milan, Italy. 3University of
Pennsylvania, Department of Psychology, 3701 Market Street Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA. Correspondence
and requests for materials should be addressed to A.C. (email: alice.chirico@unicatt.it)
Received: 26 January 2017
Accepted: 23 March 2017
Published: xx xx xxxx
OPEN
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 1218 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-01242-0
Awe
Awe includes at least three subcomponents that dierentiate it from other emotions. First, awe is induced from
stimuli characterized by vastness and a need for accommodation – stimuli features unique to awe1, 4, 15. Second,
awe is composed of several sub-components such as wonder, joy, fear, and reverence1, 15. Consequently, awe can
encompass a positive and/or a negative valence: positive awe4 and/or negative awe15. ird, awe can diminish the
sense of self, that is, participants report a sense of smallness in the face of something perceived as and larger than
one’s self15, 16. is change to one’s sense of self mediates awes ability to increase prosocial behaviours towards
strangers15, 17.
Awe aects a number of cognitive processes. For example, awe broadens attention18, increasing awareness of
others17. Awe can also alter time perception19 and can lead to a decreased estimation of one’s body size20. Further,
experimentally-induced awe leads to greater feelings of uncertainty21. Finally, awe increases feelings of connect-
edness with other people and can lead to greater satisfaction towards life3. In particular, the disposition to live awe
frequently prevents from several health risks such as depression or stress-related disorders22.
Inducing awe in the lab
Inducing suciently intense awe experiences in the lab is a key challenge for researchers5, 6. Several emotion
induction procedures have been used in previous research. Personal narratives consist of asking participants to
recount rst-hand experiences of awe vocally or in writing. is methodology has been eective for exploring
several nuances awe, e.g., refs 4, 15, 23. A similar technique consists in asking participants to read short stories
about prototypical awe elicitors, such as a sunset or a beautiful panorama15. Other techniques include the use of
awe-induction images, such as grand views or natural phenomena, e.g., refs 6, 24. A more eective version of this
technique relies on the use of videos, e.g., refs 15, 17, 25. Finally, awe has also been induced in experimental set-
tings by exposing participants to natural environments (for example, a groove of eucalyptus; ref. 15 or buildings,
e.g., refs 16, 26.
While these techniques have been generally effective in inducing awe, they have important limitations.
Personal narratives generate recalled emotions that can be drastically dierent from those actually felt during the
original event2729. is limitation is even more crucial in recalling awe experience, since awe is a complex emo-
tional state characterized by a mix of sub-components. Moreover, awe can comprise both positive and negative
feelings1, 4. Image and video-based awe induction techniques have the advantage of using standardized stimuli
and oer high degree of control on the experimental setting. On the other hand, these techniques typically gener-
ate low-intensity emotions that may have limited ecological validity6. is limitation can be overcome by expos-
ing participants to real-life awe-induction scenarios. However, this technique may be unpractical and requires
careful control of potential intervenient factors.
In summary, several experimental procedures can induce awe. However, the challenge remains of how to
increase the intensity of awe in controlled conditions in order to reproduce the complex processes that character-
ize the emotion. As Ellard, Farchione, and Barlow30 suggested, emotion induction techniques should be able to
set “complex associated processes in motion” (p. 233) not only inducing that emotion, but also the “quality of the
associated experience” is crucial (p. 233, italics in the original). In particular, in the case of awe, the authors stress
the importance of inducing the genuine and high-intensity emotion outlined by qualitative reports and depicted
in literature or art5, 6.
Assessing awe in experimental settings is another methodological challenge. Researchers have generally used
psychometric self-report measures of awe. Problematically, however, many studies use single item measures of
awe. ere are exceptions, such as Schurtz et al.23 who assessed awe through a more complex self-reported meas-
ure that addressed the “vastness” and the “need for accommodation” component. However, a validated retrospec-
tive measure of awe addressing all its subcomponents does not yet exist. On the other hand, some researchers
have used physiological measures. Oveis et al.31 and Shiota et al.24 used the valence-arousal model of emotions32, 33
which dierentiates aective states according to two dimensions of physiological arousal and hedonic valence.
ey found evidence for a sympathetic withdrawal during awe. In general, combining both conventional retro-
spective self-reports with physiological assessment would be better than either on its own.
Virtual reality as awe-induction technique: the role of presence
VR is a technology that creates the perception of entering computer-generated interactive environments. Oen,
users can navigate these virtual spaces as if they were real physical spaces. is is achieved by combining dierent
types of displays and stimuli (i.e. visual, auditory, tactile/haptic and sometimes gustative and olfactive) with sen-
sors (i.e. head-tracking, hand tracking etc.) and controllers (hand held, treadmills for walking, etc.). Recently, VR
has become of great interest for psychological researchers because of its ability to simulate real-life experiences in
a controlled and safe laboratory setting. A further advantage of VR as an experimental tool is its ability to track
participants’ behavior while exercising a high level of control on the stimuli delivered to the user. Finally, many
forms of VR allow navigating inside the virtual environment by interacting with it. Because of these features,
researchers can manipulate several parameters and variables of the participants’ simulated environment, accord-
ing to the specic needs of the experimental design.
VR has already been used in some emotion-induction studies, for both clinical applications and basic research.
In clinical applications, VR has been eective in inducing negative emotional states, such as fear and anxiety. For
example, in VR-based treatment of phobias, simulated versions of threatening stimuli have been used to elicit
the phobic responses and gradually extinguish them9. VR has also been used in stress-inoculation protocols to
simulate and manage stressful situations9, 10, 34. Finally, VR has been used to explore aective and perceptual layers
of specic pathologies, e.g., refs 35, 36. In non-clinical settings, VR has been successfully used as mood induction
procedure (MIP) to elicit various discrete emotions8, 3739. For example, Felnhofer et al.38 were able to elicit spe-
cic aective states (joy, sadness, boredom, anger and anxiety) by exposing participants to dierent virtual park
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scenarios which diered in terms of weather, facial expressions on other people, music, and other parameters.
e sense of presence, or the illusion of “being there” created by a virtual (or physical) world, is an important
element in eliciting strong emotional responses11, 12. Although dierent theoretical models of presence have been
proposed (for a review, see refs 40, 41), most authors agree that presence is a multidimensional phenomenon
encompassing several sub-components40, 42. e rst component is the feeling of physical space, i.e. the perception
of being transported in another physical space. e second component is perceptual realism, which is how much
the virtual stimuli resemble the real ones on which they are modelled10, 40. A further component is the extent to
which users can feel surrounded by the environment, or the feeling of immersion9, 40. is dimension is brought
about by the capacity to experience a virtual environment from a immersive perspective and sensorial isolation
from the real world9. Finally, a crucial component of presence is the degree of interest in a given virtual environ-
ment, i.e. their level of engagement43.
ese components of presence are generally associated to the intensity of emotions reported by participants.
For example, Baños and colleagues8found that more emotional content displayed in a virtual immersive environ-
ment increases engagement43. Baños et al.13 found that both engagement and physical space components positively
correlated with emotional intensity. Further, the component of immersion within a virtual setting increases the
intensity of the emotional reaction9, 40. Generally, it emerged that the more immersive the VR experience is, the
higher the levels of presence reported by participants40.
The current study
Previous attempts to elicit awe using VR environments have led to promising qualitative results44, 45 and while
the capacity for VR to enhance quantitative measures of awe has been theorized5, it had not yet been directly
tested experimentally. In the current study, we tested the potential of one of the highest realistic form of VR that
excludes the dimensions of navigation with the virtual environment14. We induced strong feelings of awe by
immersing participants in immersive video displays of vast and panoramic scenes of natural beauty from a 360°
perspective.
e immersive video is a new video format typically recorded through an apparatus of multiple cameras, or
using a specic VR camera composed of several camera lenses embedded into the device. It is used a specic
soware to integrate the raw footage into a coherent surrounding scene displayed on a Head Mounted Display14.
is format is characterized by high degree of pictorial realism and the capacity to move around exploring the
environment from an immersive perspective provides a strong illusion of depth, which allows for more immersive
experiences. All these elements can support a strong feeling of presence, which in turn, can contribute to elicit
a more intense emotion of awe. e main dierence between immersive videos and the so-called 2D videos is
related to the interaction between vestibular and visual systems. In 2D videos this interaction does not take place,
whereas in the immersive videos the visual stimulus changes according to the vestibular one.
Shiota and colleagues4 postulate a specic psychophysiological pattern of awe, even if it has not been empiri-
cally tested yet24. Shiota et al.24 exposed participants to 10 positive emotions including awe, and a neutral control
condition. ey assessed six psychophysiological variables: Cardiac Interbeat Interval (IBI); Cardiac Pre-Ejection
Period (PEP); Skin Conductance Responses (SCRs); Respiration Rate; Respiration Synus Arrhythmia (RSA);
Mean Arterial Pressure (MAP). ey found that awe led to a lengthening of PEP, compared to all the other con-
ditions, as well as signicantly lower levels of SCRs, in contrast with “amusement” and “anticipatory enthusiasm
conditions. Authors argued that PEP patterns of awe were consistent with the “sympathetic withdrawal”, that
they had theorized. Importantly, cardiac measures, as well as the SCRs, emerged as one of the most relevant psy-
chophysiological components for dierentiating awe from other emotions. Nevertheless, although Shiota et al.24
and Oveis et al.31 theorized the role of parasympathetic system in dierentiating awe from other emotions, they
focused mainly on the sympathetic system.
Here we tested the potential of immersive videos - the highest realistic form of Virtual Reality that excludes
the dimensions of navigation24 - in inducing awe. In dierent conditions, we used awe-inducing content and
neutral content. e neutral content condition controlled for the eect of awe-inducing content, e.g., ref. 17. We
hypothesized that the immersive presentation would increase awe more than a 2-D screen presentation. We also
hypothesized that immersive experiences would enhance the feeling of awe more than non-immersive ones. We
measured awe using an integrated methodology featuring both self-reported retrospective measures and physi-
ological assessment of awe.
Results
Analyses were done using IBM SPSS Statistics soware (Version 21, release 21.0.0.0 64 bit edition).
Awe, vastness and need for accommodation. H1: Immersive videos induce more intense awe than 2D
screen videos.
We carried out a repeated measures ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neutral
vs. awe), with self-reported awe as a dependent measure. Results showed a signicant main eect of “content” [(F
(1,41) = 125.7; p < 0.001, η2 = 0.754)]: awe-inducing contents on immersive or on a 2D screen were signicantly
more awe-inducing than neutral ones displayed on immersive or on 2D screen. More, results indicated a signif-
icant main eect of “media” [F(1,40) = 34.793, p < 0.01; η2 = 0.153]. Immersive VR displaying awe content or
neutral content, compared to the 2D screen videos depicting awe or neutral content elicited a signicantly higher
sense of self-reported awe. Results showed also a signicant interaction eect: there was a more intense sense of
awe in awe from immersive video [F(1,41) = 14.133; p < 0.01; η2 = 0.256]. In other words, it was the combination
of immersion and awe-inducing content that resulted in the highest level of self-reported awe.
H2: Immersive videos induce a signicantly higher sense of “perceived vastness” than 2D screen videos.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 1218 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-01242-0
We carried out a repeated measures ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content:
neutral vs. awe) with “perceived vastness” as a measure. Results evidenced signicant main eect of “content”
[F(1,41) = 91.820; p < 0.01; η2 = 0.691]: Awe-inducing stimuli on immersive or on a 2D screen induced a more
intense sense of vastness than neutral immersive video and neutral 2D screen video. Finally, there was also a
signicant main eect of “media” [(F(1,41) = 7.987; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.459)]. Results did not show a signicant
interaction eect [F(1,41) = 1.018; p = 0.339; η2 = 0.024]. In other words, immersive videos and awe-inducing
video resulted in higher sense of vastness.
H3: Immersive videos induce a signicantly higher “need for accommodation” than 2D screen videos.
We carried out a repeated measures ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neu-
tral vs. awe), with “perceived need for accommodation” as a measure. Results indicated a signicant main eect
of “content” [F(1,41) = 12.396; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.232]: awe-inducing stimuli displayed both in immersive or on
a 2D screen elicited more intense need for accommodation than neutral immersive and 2D video. Moreover,
results indicated a signicant main eect of “media” [F(1,41) = 18.828 p < 0.001; η2 = 0.315]. Finally, we found
a signicant interaction eect [F(1,41) = 3.85; p = 0.057; η2 = 0.086)], that is that immersive VR combined with
awe-inspiring content resulted in the most intense awe experience.
Sense of presence. H4: Immersive videos induce a signicantly higher “physical space” and “engagement” than
2D screen videos.
We carried out a repeated measures ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neutral
vs. awe), with each of the dimensions of presence as measures (i.e., physical space and engagement). ere was a
main eect of media on physical space [F (1,41) = 150.581; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.79]: Awe-inducing immersive and 2D
screen videos were able to signicantly enhance the perceived sense of being physically present within the virtual
environment more than neutral immersive and 2D screen videos.
ere was a main eect of “content” on “engagement” [F (1,41) = 53.975; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.568]: awe-inducing
stimuli displayed both on an immersive or 2D screen elicited more intense “engagement” than neutral immer-
sive and neutral 2D video. Finally, there was also a significant main effect of “media” for “engagement” [F
(1,41) = 102.801; η2 = 0.715], nonetheless, no signicant interaction eect emerged [F(1,41) = 1.907; p = 0.175;
η2 = 0.44]. ese eects were in line with previous ndings in literature which demonstrated the ability of VR to
manipulate and enhance the general sense of space46, 47.
Descriptive statistics on awe, vastness, need for accommodation, sense of presence across conditions are
shown in Table1.
Corroborative measures of awe: psychophysiological measures. We reported psychophysiological
results according to the two target dimensions of arousal and valence. Regarding arousal, we reported data con-
cerning sympathetic and parasympathetic activation during video exposure. Results concerning valence referred
specically to the activity of Zygomatic Major Muscle and Corrugator Supercilii Muscle.
Repeated measure ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neutral vs. awe) was
carried out with respect to three main indexes of sympathetic and parasympathetic activation, and two indexes
of valence. Two indexes referred to sympathetic activation (i.e., Very Low Frequency measures – VLF; Skin
Conductance Responses), and one to the parasympathetic activation (High Frequency measure – HF). One index
referred to awe negative valence (EMGa) and one to awe positive valence (EMGb). (Two participants’ physiolog-
ical recordings were not available due to problems with sensors placement).
Sympathetic Autonomous System and awe. We carried out two separated repeated measure ANOVA: 2 (media:
2D screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neutral vs. awe) for each of the indexes of sympathetic activation.
As regard cardiac activity, a signicant main eect emerged for sympathetic activation with Very Low Frequency
Total Power [F(1,37) = 7.019; p < 0.05; η2 = 0.159]: Very Low Frequency Total Power was signicantly higher in
the awe and neutralimmersive condition compared to awe and neutral2D conditions.
In terms of Skin Conductance Response, there was a signicant main eect of “media” [F(1,37) = 4.590;
p < 0.05; η2 = 0.108]: immersive VR displaying awe content or neutral content, compared to 2D screen videos
depicting awe or neutral content induced a signicantly greater Skin Conductance.
Conditions
Awe Vastness Need for
accommodation Engagement Physical
Presence
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Neutral 2D
screen 1.500 0.890 1.815 0.876 1.500 0.800 1.620 0.512 1.853 0.783
Awe 2D
screen 3.404 1.530 3.190 1.295 1.793 0.988 2.190 0.718 2.008 0.812
Neutral
immersive
screen 2.071 1.330 2.107 0.787 2.744 1.570 2.415 0.657 3.018 0.771
Awe
immersive
screen 5.119 1.533 3.756 1.250 2.738 1.575 3.181 0.636 3.326 0.729
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Awe, Vastness, Need for Accommodation, Engagement, and Physical Presence.
Note. n = 42.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 1218 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-01242-0
In other words, immersive VR were able to increase sympathetic activation signicantly more than 2D screen
videos. Indeed, these ndings are in line with researches demonstrating the amplifying role of VR on Skin
Conductance48, 49. Again, awe content alone did not result as being characterized by a sympathetic activation,
thus we chose to deepen this aspect. erefore, we analyzed the parasympathetic component of awe in order to
understand whether it is characterized not only by a sympathetic withdrawal as Shiota et al.4 found, but also by a
cholinergic activation.
Parasympathetic Autonomous System and Awe. We carried out a repeated measure ANOVA: 2 (media: 2D
screen vs. immersive screen) × 2 (content: neutral vs. awe) with HF (High Frequency) Total Power as a measure.
Results indicated a signicant eect in the interaction between “media” and “content” [F (1,37) = 5.665; p < 0.05;
η2 = 0.133]: immersive awe-inducing videos led to a signicant increase in Total Power than or neutral immersive
video, awe-inducing 2D screen videos or neutral 2D video. Despite this eect, no main eect of medium and
content emerged. is conrmed the hypotheses of previous works on the psychophysiology of awe. In short, a
sympathetic withdrawal occurred as well as a parasympathetic activation. is activation was more intense when
awe was induced by immersive videos compared with 2D screen videos.
Descriptive statistics on awe, vastness, need for accommodation, sense of presence across conditions are
shown in Table2.
Hedonic Valence of awe. Results showed no main eect for “media” [F(1,38) = 0.323; p = 0.573; η2 = 0.08] or
“content” [F(1,38) = 3.163; p = 0.083; η2 = 0.077] or interaction signicant eect occurred between media and
content in the Supercilii activity [F(1,38) = 0.493; p = 0.487; η2 = 0.013]. Results showed that no main eect for
“media” [F(1,38) = 0.767; p = 0.387; η2 = 0.020] or “content” [F(1,38) = 1.782; p = 0.179; η2 = 0.047] or interaction
signicant eect occurred between media and content in the Zygomaticus activity [F(1,38) = 0.105; p = 0.748;
η2 = 0.003]. Taken together, these results could suggest a more complex intrinsic pattern of valence characterizing
awe as a unique positive emotion in that awe did not appear to produce facial muscle changes commonly associ-
ated with presentation of pleasant stimuli.
Discussion
“Literature demonstrated that the more immersive the scenario is, the more intense is the subsequent emotional
state elicited9. Specically, immersive scenarios can increase the sense of presence, or the illusion of “being there”
created by a virtual (or physical) world, thus eliciting strong emotional responses11, 12. In other words, presence
emerged as an amplier of emotional responses. erefore, the primary aim of this study was to test whether a
higher realistic form of VR can elicit more intense experiences of awe in the lab. Towards this end, we utilized an
integrated methodology combining both retrospective and physiological measures. is combination allowed us
to advance the investigation of awe’s physiological correlates. We found that immersive eectively increases the
intensity of awe experiences compared to normal 2D videos. Moreover, VR increased the sense of engagement,
the sense of physical space, and the perception of vastness, each of which increased self-reported awe.
Furthermore, several physiological measurements were recorded, which resulted in various ndings. For
Skin Conductance Responses, it was the medium, not the content, that was primarily responsible for alterations
on this measure. We also tested Shiota et al.’s 4 hypothesis about a parasympathetic activation of awe and found
that awe-inducing content displayed on immersive video elicited a stronger parasympathetic activation com-
pared to other immersive contents. However, this result was in line with Shiota et al.4 who found a momentary
β-adrenergic activation using 2D screen videos. We adopted a methodology able to strengthen awe intensity, and
this was evident also from psychophysiological measures. Awe parasympathetic activation emerged more clearly
than in Shiota et al.4. Given the activating potential of immersive VR environments9, 40, it is more surprising that
the combination of VR and awe-inspiring contents led to a more intense parasympathetic activation, instead of
sympathetic one. ese ndings highlighted the VR was able to elicit a more intense awe even in the lab.
Finally, we did not nd any signicant dierence between Corrugator Supercilii and Zygomatic Major muscles
activity. Awe emerged as an “ambivalent” emotion – as far as facial muscle activity goes - in which positive and
negative muscle tones were blended. is could be interpreted as the rst experimental evidence of the complex
nature of valence in awe, as compared with classical models of emotions50.
More, VR oers several pathways of exploration for awe researchers. For example, one could alter the dimen-
sion of vastness by manipulating the level of presence. Other manipulations are possible, such as altering the
level of interactivity in environments. Awe has resulted more as a “stimulus-oriented” emotion (i.e., an emotion
Conditions
Very Low Frequency
Total Power Skin Conductance
Response Total Power
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Neutral 2D screen 103.548 236.376 1.745 0.858 366.840 1327.376
Awe 2D screen 90.882 147.919 1.8567 1.066 250.035 775.613
Neutral immersive
video 201.194 271.287 2.068 1.146 491.386 1219.688
Awe immersive
video 237.309 35.664 2.4428 2.516 905.875 1979.276
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics of Very Low Frequency Total Power and Skin Conductance Response
(Sympathetic indexes) and Total Power (Parasympathetic index). Note. n = 40.
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induced by non-human elicitors) than a “other-oriented” emotion, (i.e., an emotion elicited by social-interactional
stimuli)17. However, VR could oer the possibility to investigate the interactional side in a controlled setting.
For example, it could be examined how progressively engaging levels of interaction with the environment or
with other virtual characters, could enhance the intensity of awe experience or could aect hedonic tune of this
experience.
Moreover, VR oers the possibility to investigate the two cognitive appraisals of awe more deeply. For exam-
ple, as Huron51, Silvia52 and Chirico et al.5 indicated, awe can be conceived as a particular form of surprise, specif-
ically regarding the need for accommodation component5. e basic mechanism is the violation of expectations,
which includes several forms of violations51, 53. VR allows creating dierent versions of expectancy violations. For
example, paradoxical scenarios could be reproduced in VR with a high experimental control, such as the illusion
of time travelling54, or a strong sensorial discrepancy35. Further, given the relevance of mental-schema violations,
this experimental paradigm could be easily replicated for studying the impact of intense feelings of awe on pro-
cesses based on this mechanism such as creativity39, 55 both at the individual and at the group level56.
Furthermore, here we focused mainly on a visual stimulation of awe. However, it could be useful to analyze the
impact of other sensorial channels on awe emergence. For example, music has been demonstrated as an eective
inductor of awe51, 53 and other complex states, e.g., refs 57, 58. However, specic musical features responsible for
awe elicitation have not been investigated yet. With this regard, music can be used for two purposes. First, it could
be tested how auditory stimuli, such as selected musical pieces, combined with VR could improve awe induction.
Second, it could be possible to investigate the best combination between specic musical violations and immer-
sive virtual experiences. Finally, a more visionary perspective could be to visually translate musical features into
concurrent visual stimuli creating extremely engaging experiences of awe.
In terms of other measures, VR offers the opportunity for future investigations of the dynamics of awe
using neuroimaging. ese include Electroencephalography (EEG), Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), and
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In this last case other forms of VR could be used, for example
a CAVE in which the participants are physically immersed and surrounded by screens on which the images are
back-projected59.
Finally, awe has been conceived as one of the key components of a sudden and enduring personal change60
which can be supported by the use of VR61, 62. erefore, a future step could be analyzing the long-term eects
of VR induced awe. With this regard, it could be insightful to consider a long-term measure of awe such as the
variations related to the endocrine system. Specically, it could be useful detecting enduring changes aer awe
exposure and not only in terms of awe proneness, as it has been successfully done22.
Limitations
Despite the potential of VR in inducing a more intense version of awe, some limitations exist. is study could be
improved mainly regarding a measurement aspect. is research was based on a single-item self-reported meas-
ure of awe, in line with literature on this emotion, e.g., refs 4, 15, 21. However, we addressed this issue by integrat-
ing the self-reported assessment with a psychophysiological measurement of awe. Nevertheless, we considered
only the peripheral system, and did not investigate how this interacts with the central nervous system. More, we
focused on two naturalistic awe-inducing contents, but it would be possible to include also social stimuli, such
as a crowded space or the presence of a relevant person. Finally, it could be useful also to consider if dierent
naturals scenarios, such as negative natural phenomena, or interactional experiences could impact similarly on
awe induction.
Conclusions
is study has important implications for emotion research methodology. First, VR does enhance the intensity
of awe experiences in laboratory setting. Second, VR allows researchers to modulate various dimensions of awe
induction stimuli, thus teasing apart dierent subcomponents of awe.
VR oers to opportunity to observe human responses in simulated as well as completely novel environments
that feel quite real to participants. We now have the capability to understand how human beings respond to mun-
dane, unusual, dangerous, and awe-inspiring circumstances – all from the safety of the laboratory.
Materials and Methods
Participants. The study included 42 participants, who all voluntarily took part in the study (22
females mean age = 22.82; S.D. = 2.343; 20 males mean age = 22.3; S.D. = 2.7). Participants were undergrad-
uate students recruited through campus announcements at an Italian University. Participants who (at the time
of the experiment) reported vestibular and/or balance disorders were excluded. Only two participants had tried
immersive videos using HMDs. us, we considered this variable irrelevant for the analysis. e experimental
protocol was approved by the Ethical Committee of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore prior to data col-
lection. Each participant provided written informed consent for study participation. Written consent and all
methods were carried out in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration.
Stimuli. Stimuli Selection. Awe-inducing and neutral content was used. is content was selected aer a
preliminary study that tested the eectiveness of various content for awe elicitation in a separate sample of 36
participants (Chirico et al., in press)63. In this study, participants watched at 4 video contents: (i) amusing; (ii)
awe-inspiring 1 (showing a grand vista on the mountains); (iii) awe-inspiring 2 (depicting a scene of tall trees in a
forest); (iv) neutral (hens wandering on grass). Each participant watched at each video once in a counterbalanced
order. Participants then rated the extent to which they experienced several dierent emotional states such as
Anger, Awe, Amusement, Disgust, Fear, Pride, Sadness, and Joy. Each of these videos was created using ShotCut
video-editing free online tool. Results indicated that the video depicting a scene of tall trees in a forest was the
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most eective for eliciting awe, and that video of hens wandering on grass did not induce awe (i.e., this video
elicited low levels of each assessed emotion) - thus we used these two videos for the current study.
Selected stimuli and contents. e two videos chosen – an awe-inducing video and a neutral video -
were manipulated to the two dierent mediums of display. Each video was displayed as immersive VR or on a 2D
screen. is resulted in 4 conditions:
• Neutral video on a 2D screen;
• Awe-inducing video on a 2D screen;
• Neutral video on immersive screen;
• Awe-inducing video on immersive screen.
Specically, each of the four videos was composed of the following subsections: (i) a black screen lasting 6000
milliseconds; (ii) a sound (lasting 500 milliseconds) that served as a signal to the experimenter to start physio-
logical recordings; (iii) a black screen lasting 8000 milliseconds aer the sound; (iv) the beginning of the video.
Videos were displayed using Samsung Gear VR, a head mounted virtual reality display. Each video lasted
2 minutes (excluding the i, ii, iii subsections). KolorEyes App was used to manipulate the dimension of immer-
sion, by using the “immersive” option (to activate immersive display) or “2D” to display video on a 2D screen.
Kolor Eyes 1.5 App is a free immersive video-player for Windows, Mac, HTML5, iOS and Android. is app
allows tracking participants’ head orientation both in the 2D screen condition and in the immersive video
condition.
Measures. Self-reported measures. Aer video exposure, participants were required to report the extent to
which they experienced awe, presence, the sense of vastness and the need for accommodation, as follows:
(i) Awe was assessed with a single item likert self-report measure among other items measuring eight distinct
emotions (from 1 = not at all; to 7 = extremely): Anger; Awe; Disgust; Fear; Pride; Sadness, Amusement
and Joy. is questionnaire was used to obtain a measure of “global perceived awe”.
(ii) Presence was assessed using two sub-scales (“Engagement” and “Physical Space”) of the ITC-Sense of Pres-
ence Inventory (ITC-SOPI)43. e ITC-SOPI is a 42-items on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree;
5 = Strongly agree) questionnaire. is questionnaire is composed of four subscales which demonstrated
good internal consistency, showing a Cronbach Alpha ranging between 0.76 and 0.94: Sense of Physical
Space (0.94); Engagement (0.89); Ecological Validity (0.76); Negative Eects (0.77). We focused on the two
subscales of Physical Space and Engagement since they have already resulted relevant regarding emotional
intensity.
(iii) Perceived vastness was assessed using four items: 1. What I watched provided me with a deep sense of vast-
ness; 2. I felt small in front of what I watched; 3. I felt meaningless in front of what I saw; 4. I felt my sense
of self diminish in front of what I saw). Cronbach Alpha = 0.77.
(iv) Perceived need for accommodation was assessed using four items: 1. It was hard to grasp what was going on
in the video; 2. I felt confused and bewildered in front of what saw; 3. I was struck by the video). Cronbach
Alpha = 0.81.
is questionnaire, which included perceived vastness and perceived need for accommodation dimensions,
was created according to the guidelines provided by Schurtz et al.23 and Pi et al.15.
Psychophysiological measures. e ongoing experience of awe was assessed through physiological measures
that have been used in previous studies on awe24, 31. Since our approach is new, we sought to corroborate the
assessment of awe with self-report and physiological measures. Our aim was two-fold. First, we chose to draw
from previous ndings for detecting awe using physiological measures. Moreover, we decided to advance the
psychophysiological knowledge on awe by paying more attention to the role of the parasympathetic system. To
these ends, we measured peripheral nervous system (PNS) activation by using various wearable noninvasive
biosensors:
• A biosensor to record Skin Conductance Response (SCR). SCR depends on the activity of the sweat gland
which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It is an index of psychophysiological arousal64. We
recorded SCRs with two electrodes placed on the palmar surfaces of the distal phalanges of the index and ring
ngers of the dominant hand. Skin Conductance (SC) is expressed in microsiemens (µS) representing the
average of the cleaned signal during a given experimental epoch.
• Blood Volume Pulse (BVP) is a signal obtained through a photoplethysmograph biosensor, which meas-
ures uctuations in blood volume in a specic tissue with a light-emitting diode. e amount of infrared
light transmitted to the photoplethysmograph is a function of the amount of blood saturating specic tissue
regions. BVP was recorded to measure complex cardiovascular activity to gather information on sympathetic
and parasympathetic activations during experimental epochs.
• Two surface electromyography (sEMG) biosensors recorded muscular automatic micro-contractions of both
the Corrugator Supercilii Muscle (following corrugator) and the Zygomatic Major Muscle (following zygo-
matic). Corrugator activity is sensitive to unpleasant stimuli65, and does not depend on the awareness of the
eliciting stimulus66. We used this measure as an index of positive and negative emotional valence as Zygo-
matic activity has been shown to respond to pleasant stimuli65, 67.
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A ProComp Innity 8-channel (ought Technology Ltd, Montreal, Canada) was used to record all physiolog-
ical measures during each video session (the experimental epochs), with a sampling rate at 256 Hz for BVP and
SCR and at a 2048 Hz for the two EMG. Heart rate variability (HRV) measures were calculated through a custom
script in Matlab 7.10.0 (R2010a).
Inter-Beat Interval (IBI) was extracted from the Blood Volume Pulse sensor. It consisted in a measure compa-
rable with the R-R peaks interval extracted from the electrocardiogram. According to the guidelines of Task Force
of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology68, typical
temporal and spectral HRV measures (by the means of Fourier spectral methods) were extracted to evaluate the
response of the autonomic nervous system. e rhythms were considered as very low frequency (VLF < 0.04 Hz),
low-frequency (LF, 0.04 to 0.15 Hz), and high frequency (HF, 0.15 to 0.4 Hz) oscillations.
About the sEMG, since the raw electromyography is a collection of positive and negative electrical signals,
their frequency and amplitude provide information on the contraction or rest state of the muscle. Amplitude is
measured in microvolts (μV). As the subject contracts a muscle, the number and amplitude of the lines increase,
Figure 1. Interaction eect of media and content with awe as a measure. Error bars indicate standard errors of
the means.
Figure 2. Interaction eect of medium and condition with HF Total power as a measure. Error bars indicate
standard errors of the means.
Figure 3. e sequence of video subsections. Image of Tall trees was taken from Pixabay (credits: Pixabay,
https://pixabay.com/it/sequoia-foresta-redwood-274158/).
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and, as the muscle relaxes, the number and amplitude of the lines decrease. We considered the Root Mean Square
(RMS) to rectify the raw signal and converted it to an amplitude envelope. According to Blumenthal and col-
leagues69, facial EMG corrugator and zygomatic can be considered the best measure for negative and positive
emotion valence, respectively.
Procedure. First, participants provided informed consent document. en, participants were provided both
by a written and an oral description of the study, and sensors for physiological measurement were applied. e
protocol included 4 video-viewing trials. Each participant watched each video once in a counterbalanced order.
During video exposure, cardiovascular activity (with BVP), electrodermal response (with SCR), and facial mus-
cular activity (corrugator and zygomatic) were recorded. Specically, a baseline measure was obtained (3 min
length) while they were sitting comfortably. Participants then put on a virtual reality head-mounted display (i.e.,
Samsung Gear VR for Samsung Galaxy Note 4) and they received standardized instructions about how to use
VR. When participants indicated that they were ready to begin Figs1, 2 and 3 the experimenter touched the
lateral pad to start the video. Aer each video exposure, participants completed the self-report ratings described
above. is procedure was repeated four times, one time for each condition, with each participant. Participants
were instructed to explore the video freely and to have their arms lie in the same position for all the experimental
session. e entire experiment lasted about 55 minutes.
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Author Contributions
Authors contributed according to their competences and interests. A.C. and A.G. conceived the main idea of the
article. A.C. collected all data. P.C. carried out statistical analyses and signal processing. A.C. wrote the rst dra
of the manuscript, while P.C., G.R., F.B., and D.B.Y. contributed to the nal writing of the manuscript by giving
suggestions regarding the issues related to the rhetoric and to the literature. A.G. supervised the entire work. All
authors contributed to the manuscript, read, and approved the nal version.
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Scientific RepoRts | 7: 1218 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-01242-0
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... Emerging interactive visualisation technology provides novel opportunities for considering relations between affective responses and learning. In one study, Chirico et al. (2017) showed that immersive visualisations can significantly enhance the self-reported intensity of awe. Another study by Sheppard et al. (2008) showed that human responses to 3D visualisations of climate change evoke 'feelings' and 'emotions', especially when the visualisations portray the implications of climate change as realistic landscapes. ...
... Students expressed awe most often in conjunction with evolutionary time at the start of the interview and mostly in direct relation with a zooming interaction. In addition, the observation that awe was expressed rapidly after students' initial exposure to the visualisation, supports the 'affective power' of DeepTree (also see Chirico et al. 2017;Muller et al. 2006). In some cases, the zooming was almost a 'visceral' experience (see e.g. ...
... They provide several indications of the connection between surprise and learning about biological relatedness as well as the association between awe and learning about common descent. Similar findings by Block et al. (2012), Chirico et al. (2017), and Sheppard et al. (2008) also support our results that interactive visualisations can promote affective responses to facilitate learning. However, future research needs to pay more attention to the nature of the links between affect and learning. ...
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Despite the importance of emotions in science education, research on affect remains sparse. A promising direction is to explore the role of immersive visualisation in evoking affective responses. We investigate whether touch-based zooming interaction with a tabletop visualisation of the tree of life evokes various affective responses, particularly, the epistemic affective responses of awe, curiosity, surprise, and confusion. Ten students participated in semi-structured interviews while interacting with the visualisation. Verbal utterances and interactions with the visual interface were videorecorded. Students’ verbal and non-verbal affective responses in relation to five evolutionary themes were analysed. Results revealed that students expressed all four affective responses while engaging the zooming feature, with awe and surprise most frequently uttered. Most affective responses were associated with the themes of biological relationships and evolutionary time. Awe was highly associated with evolutionary time, surprise with biological relationships, and confusion with both these conceptual themes. For eight participants, awe was the initial affective response generated after exposure to the dynamic tree of life. The study demonstrates that interacting with an immersive visualisation through zooming can induce affective responses in relation to multiple conceptual themes in evolution. The findings provide insight into multidirectional interconnections between affect, dynamic visualisation, and biology concepts.
... The acquisition of physiological signals is also increasingly being used in VR research. Chirico et al. [9] compared the emotional arousal of videos for awe in 2D and VR and analyzed galvanic skin response (GSR) and an electromyogram (EMG) to conclude that VR videos can trigger stronger parasympathetic activation, which can effectively enhance the sense of awe and presence in the film. Electrodermal activity (EDA) and heart rate variability (HRV) data were gathered by Higuera-Trujillo et al. [10] to compare 2D, 360, and VR media. ...
... Baseline drift was ultimately removed [27] and re-referenced. After preprocessing, the artifact-free data were bandpass filtered to generate EEG signals in the α-band (8)(9)(10)(11)(12)(13) and β-band (13)(14)(15)(16)(17)(18)(19)(20)(21)(22)(23)(24)(25)(26)(27)(28)(29)(30); the β-band was then separated into three subbands: β1 (13-18 Hz), β2 (18)(19)(20)(21), and β3 (21-30 Hz) for additional analysis. The power of a data segment was represented by the sum of the squares of all points in the frequency range, as given in Equation (1), where k denotes the number of trials in the data segment, n denotes the number of data points in each segment, and x(k) i denotes the value of the ith point in the kth data segment. ...
... In window 3-3 (1200-1400 ms), the main effect of group (F(1,9) = 8.158, p = 0.019, η 2 = 0.475) showed that energy values were significantly higher for VR-3D than 2D (p = 0.019); the mean difference is 3.812 (95%CI: 0.793-6.832). In window 3-4 (1400-1600 ms), the main effect of group (F (1,9) =8.710, p = 0.016, η 2 = 0.492) showed that energy values were significantly higher for VR-3D than 2D (p = 0.026); the mean difference is 4.004 (95%CI: 0.935-7.073). In window 3-5 In the second time window (325-425 ms), the results showed a main effect of emotion (F(2,18) = 8.084, p = 0.003, η 2 = 0.473), which revealed that positive stimuli induced a significantly larger positive component than negative stimuli (p = 0.039). ...
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... In many studies, XR technology provided users with pseudo-ASC experiences through the visual and auditory stimulation of virtual environments. Often, virtual environments afforded users with physically, temporally and spatially impossible situations to create ASC experiences such as hallucinations [76,88], mysticaltype experiences [23], and awe [16,17,37,62,63,75]. For example, the review identified the use of the virtual environment to induce out of body experiences [2,20], altered self-presence [32,41], altered sense of body ownership [32,38], altered spatial presence [16,17,32,38], altered sense of control [38], and altered visual perception [16,17,38]. ...
... Often, virtual environments afforded users with physically, temporally and spatially impossible situations to create ASC experiences such as hallucinations [76,88], mysticaltype experiences [23], and awe [16,17,37,62,63,75]. For example, the review identified the use of the virtual environment to induce out of body experiences [2,20], altered self-presence [32,41], altered sense of body ownership [32,38], altered spatial presence [16,17,32,38], altered sense of control [38], and altered visual perception [16,17,38]. Compared to techniques like environment modification or brainwave entrainment, XR has the potential to virtually create interactive spaces where the users are experiencing situations which are realistically impossible, yet convincing in terms of their sensory experiences. ...
... Often, virtual environments afforded users with physically, temporally and spatially impossible situations to create ASC experiences such as hallucinations [76,88], mysticaltype experiences [23], and awe [16,17,37,62,63,75]. For example, the review identified the use of the virtual environment to induce out of body experiences [2,20], altered self-presence [32,41], altered sense of body ownership [32,38], altered spatial presence [16,17,32,38], altered sense of control [38], and altered visual perception [16,17,38]. Compared to techniques like environment modification or brainwave entrainment, XR has the potential to virtually create interactive spaces where the users are experiencing situations which are realistically impossible, yet convincing in terms of their sensory experiences. ...
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There has been increasing interest shown in experiences such as lucid dreams, hallucinations, or awe that arise in HCI. Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) is the umbrella term for these experiences, yet it has been subject to fragmented study, and design knowledge to help individuals working on technology-driven ASCs is lacking. This paper investigates HCI studies involving ASC artefacts through a scoping review. The findings relate to (1) ASC induction methods, (2) ASC experiences through artefacts, (3) ASC artefacts, and (4) the technology of ASC artefacts. The returned literature shows that HCI studies have mainly explored psychologically induced ASCs, and XR technologies and embodied interaction are widely used in ASC research. Meanwhile, physical artefact design including active body movements and the integration of games and play approaches featured as prospective directions. These results will contribute to the knowledge of those studying and designing ASC artefacts.
... Virtual reality (VR) could replicate those scenarios and the illusion of feeling immersed in them 11 and the consequent complex evoked emotions such as awe. 12 VR might be promising for promoting relaxation and fostering emotional wellbeing. 8,10,13 Staying in a natural environment, even in a virtual dimension, seems to contribute to lower stress, helps recover from emotional distress, preserves attentional resources and cognitive performance. ...
... 24 The increase of SCL found in the forest could be linked to the emotion of awe 36 : given that this kind of environment has already been proved to elicit this emotion. 12,31 Moreover, the forest was a more complex scenario, rich in details that could stimulate curiosity, making participants feel more engaged. 37,38 During the cognitive task, the room environment elicited greater SCL responses, than the forest. ...
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Research shows that reduced exposure to natural contexts is associated with an increase in psychophysical disorders. Recent evidence suggests that even a brief experience in natural scenarios can positively affect people's health and well-being. However, natural contexts are not always easily accessible. This study investigates the effects of natural and indoor virtual environments (VREs) on psychophysiological and cognitive responses. Following a within-subject design, 34 healthy participants were exposed to two VREs (i.e., a forest and a living room) in a counterbalanced order through a head-mounted display (Oculus Rift). Participants were asked to explore the scenarios and execute a modified version of the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test. Physiological parameters (heart rate, skin conductance level [SCL], and respiration rate) were recorded during the whole session. After the exposure to VREs, participants filled a set of visual analog scales to rate their subjective experience of presence, relaxation, and stress. Participants reported a higher perceived sense of relaxation in the virtual forest. Moreover, their SCLs were significantly higher in this environment, showing that the forest elicited higher physiological arousal than the living room. Furthermore, their SCLs were significantly higher during the attentional task in the virtual living room. The results suggest that a natural virtual environment can make people feel more relaxed and physiologically engaged than an indoor scenario. The latter instead can be linked to a performing venue, as reported for real contexts. However, these changes were not related to modulations of attentional performance.
... There is also some evidence to show that the experience of awe is associated with activation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) (Chirico et al., 2017)-sometimes called the "rest and digest" system as it conserves energy by decreasing heart rate. In addition, awe has been linked to reduced activation of the sympathetic branch of the ANS (Shiota, Neufeld, Yeung, Moser, & Perea, 2011). ...
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The achievement of sustainable prosperity requires the enhancement of human wellbeing alongside increased care for the environment. In recent years, much has been written on the role of different mental states and their potential to influence our way of thinking and, perhaps more importantly, the way we act. In this working paper, we explore the emerging potential of a type of mental state known as Self-Transcendent Experiences (STEs) to deliver beneficial effects on human wellbeing and sustainable attitudes and behaviours. Self-transcendent experiences can be facilitated by experiences of flow, awe and meditation, as well as psychedelic experiences. Some of these experiences can occur naturally, through sometimes unexpected encounters with nature or during immersion in every-day activities that one intrinsically enjoys, as well as through more intentional practices such as meditation or the use of psychedelics. We demonstrate how each of the four alternative types of STEs share some similar neurological underpinnings and review their links to improvements in human wellbeing and sustainable attitudes and behaviours. We also highlight potential risks across the different varieties of STEs and consider factors that need to be considered if they are to be employed as a practical means of supporting sustainable prosperity.
... For example, awe has been associated with greater levels of life satisfaction (Rudd et al., 2012;Krause and Hayward, 2015), more positive emotions (Anderson et al., 2018;Rankin et al., 2019), and increases in meaning in life (Rivera et al., 2019). Awe might also help to moderate the effects of stress on the body (Chen and Mongrain, 2020) in that it is associated with increased activation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) (Chirico et al., 2017) and reduced activation of the sympathetic branch of the ANS (Shiota et al., 2011). ...
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In recent years, much has been written on the role of different mental states and their potential to influence our way of thinking and, perhaps more importantly, the way we act. With the recent acceleration of environmental and mental health issues, alongside the limited effectiveness of existing interventions, an exploration of new approaches to deliver transformative change is required. We therefore explore the emerging potential of a type of mental state known as self-transcendent experiences (STEs) as a driver of ecological wellbeing. We focus on four types of STEs: those facilitated by experiences of flow, awe, and mindfulness, as well as by psychedelic-induced experiences. Some of these experiences can occur naturally, through sometimes unexpected encounters with nature or during immersion in everyday activities that one intrinsically enjoys, as well as through more intentional practices such as meditation or the administration of psychedelics in controlled, legal settings. We explore the evidence base linking each of the four types of STE to ecological wellbeing before proposing potential hypotheses to be tested to understand why STEs can have such beneficial effects. We end by looking at the factors that might need to be considered if STEs are going to be practically implemented as a means of achieving ecological wellbeing.
... The VR environment offers ecological validity, experimental control, reproducibility [7], and emotional engagement of participants [8]. More than 2D screen videos or games, VR has the ability to create a strong sense of presence and to increase sympathetic activation significantly [9]. We suspect that the current VR environment intensifies feelings of risk and betrayal after a trust violation in comparison to previous studies that used 2D simulations or using videos [10]. ...
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