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Awe is a complex emotion characterized by feelings of vastness and a need for accommodation. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the experience of awe impacts on peculiar dimensions of creative potential in terms of creative thinking. Fifty-two university students were exposed both to an awe-inducing 3D-video and to a neutral one in a within-subject design. After each video, participants reported the intensity and type of perceived emotion and completed two verbal tasks of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT; Torrance, 1974). A direct causal relationship between awe and creative thinking was tested using generalized linear model. Results showed that awe affected key creative thinking components—fluency, flexibility and elaboration measured by the product improvement test—compared to the neutral stimulus. Implications of these findings for future research and limitations are discussed.
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Creativity Research Journal
ISSN: 1040-0419 (Print) 1532-6934 (Online) Journal homepage:
Awe Enhances Creative Thinking: An Experimental
Alice Chirico, Vlad Petre Glaveanu, Pietro Cipresso, Giuseppe Riva & Andrea
To cite this article: Alice Chirico, Vlad Petre Glaveanu, Pietro Cipresso, Giuseppe Riva & Andrea
Gaggioli (2018) Awe Enhances Creative Thinking: An Experimental Study, Creativity Research
Journal, 30:2, 123-131, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2018.1446491
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Awe Enhances Creative Thinking: An Experimental
Alice Chirico
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Vlad Petre Glaveanu
Webster University Geneva
Pietro Cipresso and Giuseppe Riva
IRCCS Istituto Auxologico Italiano and Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Andrea Gaggioli
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and IRCCS Istituto Auxologico Italiano
Awe is a complex emotion characterized by feelings of vastness and a need for accommodation.
The aim of this study was to investigate whether the experience of awe impacts on peculiar
dimensions of creative potential in terms of creative thinking. Fifty-two university students were
exposed both to an awe-inducing 3D-video and to a neutral one in a within-subject design. After
each video, participants reported the intensity and type of perceived emotion and completed two
verbal tasks of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT; Torrance, 1974). A direct causal
relationship between awe and creative thinking was tested using generalized linear model.
Results showed that awe affected key creative thinking componentsuency, exibility and
elaboration measured by the product improvement testcompared to the neutral stimulus.
Implications of these ndings for future research and limitations are discussed.
still remember my wife and me crying bitterly after his
birth. As other parents looked fondly at their new babies,
we went to the window to see the ambulance below
taking our son from usperhaps forever. At this
most terrible moment in our young lives, and despite
our fears, we felt a strangely overwhelming sense that
something magnicent was taking place, that we were
being immersed together in somethingsome process
that was innitely beyond what we could ever understand,
but that we were destined to keep trying. I know now that
what we felt was the most intense, wonderful, upsetting,
and transcendently terrible of all human emotions: awe.
(Pearsall, 2007, pp. (Introduction): XII-XIII)
There are some profound and rare experiences able to alter our
perception of the world and of ourselves deeply and suddenly
(Pearsall, 2007; Schneider, 2009). This is the case of awe,
which is a complex emotion associated with moments of
deep and personal change (Schneider, 2009). Given the
intrinsically composited nature of this emotion, psychology
has begun to study it only recently. However, several
discoveries have been made regarding awe, especially in the
experimental eld (e.g., Campos, Shiota, Keltner, Gonzaga,
&Goetz,2013; Cohen, Gruber, & Keltner, 2010; Keltner
& Haidt, 2003; Shiota, Keltner, & Mossman, 2007;
Simon-Thomas, Keltner, Sauter, Sinicropi-Yao, & Abramson,
2009; Stellar et al., 2015). Most experimental research on awe
relied on the reference model of Keltner and Haidt (2003),
which posed vastness and need for accommodation as the core
appraisals of this emotion. Specically, this emotion arises in
front of massivestimuli (pragmatically or conceptually;
Silvia, Fayn, Nusbaum, & Beaty, 2015;p.377)abletochal-
lenge and expand individualsmental frames. Generally, it has
Correspondence should be sent to Alice Chirico Department of
Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Largo
Gemelli, 1, Milan, Italy. E-mail:
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-0419 print/1532-6934 online
been demonstrated that awe can enlarge peoplesmental
frames (e.g., Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012; Silvia et al., 2015;
Sung & Yih, 2015).
By expanding peoples mental frames, awe could also help
them nd new connections among objects or ideas. Specically,
it was hypothesized that awe could be related to the ability to
discover new links among ideas, concepts or objects, that is, to
creative thinking, as a measure of creative potential, which can
increase the probability to implement creative behavior
(Guilford, 1967;Torrance,1974). Akin to awes cognitive com-
ponents, creative thinking is the ability to recombine ideas and
to nd new relationships between them (Guilford, 1950;
Torrance, 1969). It is one of the main layers of creative perfor-
mance and personal achievement (Runco, Millar, Acar, &
Cramond, 2010), and one of the core cognitive processes of
creativity (Runco & Acar, 2012;Torrance,1974). Specically,
the cognitive component of vastness, in the case of awe, was
related to the prototypical elicitors of awe, which included grand
and vast panorama (Keltner & Haidt, 2003;Shiotaetal.,2007).
Taking this into account, it was demonstrated that spaciousness
could enhance creative potential (van Rompay & Jol, 2016)
both self-reported and evaluated by external coders. In this
study, it was hypothesized that prototypical vast and grand
awe elicitors would be creativity conductive.
In addition, in this research, it was assumed that awe could
enhance the ability to discover new connections among ideas
also due to its need for accommodation component (i.e., the
need for updating current mental frames in line with new
incoming information). This need would arise from a shift
between previous knowledge and the new one (Piaget &
Inhelder, 1969). In this regard, Ritter et al. (2012)demonstrated
that uncommon and unexpected experiences, in which people
feel actively involved (i.e., the so-called diversifying experi-
ences) could enhance the ability of nding new links among
ideas. Finally, Fong (2006) demonstrated that ambivalent and
ambiguous emotional states entailing both negative and positive
dimensions were conductive to creativity. Awe, as an ambigu-
ous emotion (Lazarus, 1991), could thus enhance creativity. In
spite of this potential afnity between awe and creativity, no
research has explored their relationship yet. Here, a laboratory
study, which examined the relationships between awe and crea-
tive potential compared to an emotional neutral content, was
presented. To capture the impact of the complex emotion of awe
on creativity, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT;
Torrance, 1974) was selected as a measure of creative potential.
Before presenting the study, existing research on awe as well as
on creativity and emotions was reviewed.
Awe is a composite emotion that can impact positively on
several aspects of individualslife (Chirico, Yaden, Riva,
& Gaggioli, 2016b; Shiota et al., 2007). At the social level,
awe can facilitate the emergence of prosocial behaviors and
attitudes toward even unknown others (Prade & Saroglou,
2016). At the individual level, this emotion can amplify
peoples perception of time (Rudd et al., 2012), support
spiritual beliefs (Van Cappellen & Saroglou, 2012), and
affect peoplebody image (van Elk, Karinen, Specker,
Stamkou, & Baas, 2016). Moreover, it was demonstrated
that proneness to awe protected against interleukin-6 pro-
tein, which is related to the emergence of chronic or depres-
sive disorders (Stellar et al., 2015). At a higher level, awe
can change peoplesgeneral perspectives toward the world
and themselves (Schneider, 2009; Shiota et al., 2007; Stellar
et al., 2015; Valdesolo & Graham, 2014). Regarding this
latter aspect, most scholars conceived this emotion as one of
the mechanisms at the base of human knowledge (i.e.,
Shiota et al., 2007; Silvia 2010).
Awe arises from stimuli that are so vast (both perceptually
and conceptually) as to require an updating of peoplescurrent
mental schemas (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Individuals who
experienced awe feel the need to accommodate their previous
mental frames according to new information, instead of simply
assimilating it (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Awe thus contributes
to expanding peoplemental frames and can open to new
perspectives toward self and others by generating new
knowledge that was previously ignored (Schneider, 2009;
Sung & Yih, 2015). At the dispositional level, awe was closely
related to the trait of openness to experience (Silvia et al.,
2015), that is, the more open-mind the person was, the more
he or she was prone to experience awe. Indeed, the openness to
experience personality trait was found associated to creativity
itself (e.g., Agnoli, Franchin, Rubaltelli, & Corazza, 2015;
Batey, Chamorro-Premuzic, & Furnham, 2010;Leung&
Chiu, 2008; McCrae, 1987; Prabhu, Sutton, & Sauser, 2008).
In this study, it was suggested that this awe potential could be
related to the cognitive side of creativity, that is, to creative
thinking. Creative thinking is the ability to explore new con-
nections among ideas, nding new possible combinations
(Guilford, 1959,1967; Torrance, 1974,1969; Torrance,
Sprini, & Tomasello, 1989). Awe could open new perspectives
even on a specic task, thus helping nd new possible solu-
tions. In other words, awe can make mental frames more
exible and accommodating.
At the same time, awe itself is elicited by vast and grand
natural phenomena (e.g., high mountains, tornados, droplets
of colored water colliding with a milk; Piff, Dietze,
Feinberg, Stancato, & Keltner, 2015), distant grand panor-
ama (Shiota et al., 2007), as well as abstract vast inductors
(i.e., big ideas) (Fredericks, 2017; Keltner & Haidt, 2003).
In this regard, Liberman, Polack, Hameiri, and Blumenfeld
(2012) showed that spacious natural images can enhance
creative thinking abilities (i.e., uency and originality) in a
sample of high school students ranging from 13 to 15 years
old. Here, it was hypothesized that, also, adultsmental
frames can be affected by such spacious stimuli.
One of the main hypotheses of our work is that common
awe elicitors, such as a forest of tall trees, can enhance the
uency and originality dimensions of creativity also in adults.
Despite this emphasis on the concept of vastness, awe
includes another relevant component, which is the need for
accommodation. This can be dened as the urge to update
current mental frames to new knowledge. This need is trig-
gered by an incongruence between what it is known and the
new incoming information (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Ritter
et al. (2012) demonstrated that uncommon and unexpected
experiences, in which people feel actively involved (i.e., the
so-called diversifying experiences), enhanced one of the
main component of creativity, that is, cognitive exibility
(i.e., the ability to discover new associations between ideas;
Guilford, 1967; Torrance, 1969). In this study, participants
were exposed to stimuli intended to induce an extremely
engaging and unusual emotion, that is awe. It was hypothe-
sized that awe could enhance exibility dimensions of crea-
tivity due to the diversifying nature of it basic mechanism,
that is, the need for accommodation.
Finally, awe is considered as a complex emotion entailing a
double valence. Specically, according to the reference model
of Keltner and Haidt (2003), different avors of awe (i.e.,
threat, beauty, ability, virtue; supernatural causality) exist and
depend on specic awe elicitors. Researches drawing from
their model conceived awe consequently. Some treated awe
as a positive emotion (Campos et al., 2013;Griskevicius,
Shiota, & Neufeld, 2010; Shiota, Campos, & Keltner, 2003;
Shiota, Keltner, & John, 2006). Others conceived the negative
valence of awe as a special case of this emotion (Gordon et al.,
2016; Piff et al., 2015). However, a recent research on awe
demonstrated that it has not a dened and univocal valence, at
least regarding the microfacial valence components of this
emotion (Chirico, Cipresso, & Yaden, et al., 2017). Here,
awe-inducing stimuli were considered, in which the positive
and the negative affect components were pretested to reach a
balance, to reproduce the genuine ambiguous nature of this
emotion even in a laboratory setting (Chirico, Cipresso, &
Gaggioli, 2017,2016a).
The interest in the relationship between awe and creativity is
rooted in the wider and well-established eldofemotionand
creativity (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008;Kaufmann&
Vosburg, 2002; Lin, Tsai, Lin, & Chen, 2014). Specically,
researchers have focused on how emotions could enhance dif-
ferent creativity components (Baas et al., 2008; Lin et al., 2014).
In spite of the multifaceted nature of creativity, at the assessment
level, most researchers drew from the model of Paul Torrance
(1974,1969)focused on creative potential. According to this
model, creativity includes four main underlying dimensions, that
are: uency (the number of ideas generated), exibility (genera-
tion of different ideational approaches or categories), originality
(generation of uncommon ideas), and elaboration (how well
detailed are the products). A detailed meta-analysis, carried out
by Baas et al. (2008), grouped Torrancesdimensionsintothree
categories (uency, cognitive exibility, and originality) to ana-
lyze the impact of emotional factors on creativity, also due to the
problematic nature of the dimension of elaboration (Cramond,
Matthews-Morgan, Bandalos, & Zuo, 2005). They evidenced
that the specic combinations of hedonic tune (i.e., emotional
valence), activation (i.e., activating or deactivating states), and
regulatory focus (i.e., prevention or promotion self-regulation
focus; Higgins, 1997; Idson, Liberman, & Higgins, 2000)could
enhance specic dimensions of creativity. They also found that,
generally, positive and activating moods, compared with neutral
ones, increased mainly cognitive exibility component.
Moreover, fear and anger (i.e., negative moods) were related to
increased originality and uency, but not with cognitive ex-
ibility. Despite the relevance of these results, the authors high-
lighted a literature bias related to the overinvestigation of some
moods, compared to others (e.g., happiness, sadness, relaxation).
Moreover, Baas et al. (2008) considered only studies which
focused on basic emotions or moods.
Adding to this area of study, a recent work of Jovanovic,
Meinel, Schrödel, and Voigt (2016) highlighted the need to
study the interaction between positive and negative emotional
states, which occur not only subsequently (Bledow, Rosing, &
Frese, 2013) but also simultaneously (Fong, 2006). Fong
(2006) focused on the workplace domain to investigate the
relationship between ambiguous emotional affects and creativ-
ity. According to the informational approaches on emotions
(Forgas, 2000), Fong postulated that emotional ambivalence
provides information about an environment. The unusual asso-
ciation between opposite emotions indicates that a person is an
environment in which other atypical relationships can occur. In
other words, according to Fong (2006), ambivalent emotions
should make people more sensitive to unusual associations,
thus enhancing their cognitive exibility. They demonstrated
that emotionally ambivalent events, which were perceived also
as unusual, facilitated unusual associations in the subsequent
remote associates task (Mednick, 1962).
Awe can be considered a prototypical case of ambivalent
emotion (Chirico et al., 2017; Lazarus, 1991). Here, it was
suggested that also awes ambivalent nature could contribute
to make people more sensitive to new and uncommon
relationship among ideas and object, thus impacting on
their cognitive exibility.
However, no study has addressed yet the relationship
between awe and creativity.
In this research, we examined the role of intense experiences
of awe elicited with the help of a new advanced emotion
induction technique, virtual reality (VR), in enhancing
creativity. It was hypothesized that the processes underlying
awe (i.e., the two components of vastness and need for
accommodation), as well as its emotionally ambiguous nat-
ure, could improve creative performance.
We sought to extend past works in two main ways.
Nearly all research on emotions and creativity have consid-
ered only basic emotions or general affective states (Baas
et al., 2008). However, emotions are often blended in real-
life experiences and lead to the emergence of complex
emotional states (Jovanovic et al., 2016), such as awe.
Hence, studying the awe-creativity link could improve
both ecological validity of experimental studies in this
eld, and it can bring evidence about the causal links
between awe and creativity for the rst time.
Second, to assess the generality of awes relationship with
creativity, the participants were exposed to a potentially awe-
inspiring content using a new emotion-induction procedure:
VR. VR has been suggested as a potential way to induce
higher intensity awe in the lab. This aspect is relevant because
it has been noted that low-level emotional states did not
impact on creativity as much as moderate ones: An optimal
level of activation is needed for an emotional state to actually
impact creativity (Davis, 2009). Therefore, the intensity com-
ponent can be crucial for the investigation of awe-creativity
link. In this regard, as Westermann, Stahl, and Hesse (1996)
demonstrated, mood-induction procedures differ regarding
their ability to induce specic moods. Some procedure led
to greater intensity longer-lasting emotional states than
others. Specically, Ellard, Farchione, and Barlow (2012)
argued that it exists a suitable procedure for each specic
emotional state, thus impacting on the quality of the experi-
ence itself.
Therefore, the emotion-induction procedure needs to be
considered carefully when it comes to studying the impact
of specic emotions on creativity. Emotion-induction pro-
cedures eliciting low or very high levels of the target emo-
tion might not help us detect a relationship with creativity,
even if one does exist.
Here, VR was used because it has proved to be an
effective emotion-induction procedure, able to elicit awe in
the lab (Chirico et al., 2016b; Chirico, Cipresso, & Yaden,
et al., 2017). The use of VR can help researchers provide an
optimal emotional state by manipulating the intensity level
of awe in a laboratory setting.
Indeed, inducing intense instances of awe is a crucial
issue within awe experimental eld (Silvia et al., 2015).
In this research, participants were exposed to two vali-
dated VR contents. The rst was an awe-inducing content
(i.e., displaying a scene of tall trees) and the second
displayed a neutral content (i.e., hens wandering).
Finally, after watching each video, participants were
required to complete two questionnaires on emotions
and specically on awe, and two verbal subtests of the
TTCT (Torrance, 1974).
Sample and Participants Selection
The sample consisted of 52 adults (26 women and 26 men)
from Lombardy, region of Italy, who voluntarily took part in
the research. The sample was young (mean age = 24.9;
SD = .214) with an average number of years in education
of 16.83 (SD = 2.587). Ten participants were workers;
among them, 5 were also students. The remaining partici-
pants were only students. Fifty-one participants were unmar-
ried and only one was married.
All participants were resident in Lombardy, a region of
Italy. Participants who (at the time of the experiment)
reported vestibular and/or balance disorders were excluded.
The experimental protocol was approved by the Ethical
Committee of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
prior to data collection. Each participant provided written
informed consent for study participation. The whole proce-
dure was carried out in accordance with the Helsinki
Materials and Methods
Participants were placed in an isolated room, gave consent,
and completed demographics. Participants then put on a VR
head-mounted display (Gear VR) combined with a smart-
phone (i.e., Galaxy Note 4), and they were provided with
standardized instructions about how to make each video
start using this VR device. After the participants had worn
Gear VR, and had xed the arrow button (to make the video
start) the experimenter touched the lateral pad and the video
started. Each participant watched both videos individually
and in a counterbalanced order. The awe-inducing video
depicted a scene of tall trees inspired from the experiment
of Piff et al. (2015). The neutral video showed hens wander-
ing in the grass, and it was used a contrast condition in line
with previous studies (e.g., Griskevicius et al., 2010; Prade
& Saroglou, 2016).
Each video lasted 2 min and was made up of these
subsections: (a) black screen lasting 6,000 ms, (b) a sound
(lasting 500 ms) allowing the experimenter to know that the
video started, (c) black screen appearing 8,000 ms after the
sound, and (d) rst scene appearing 14,000 seconds after the
beginning of the whole video. KolorEye App was used to
display videos on a 360° screen, by using the function
360°(for 360° immersive spherical display). Kolor Eyes
1.5 App is a free 360° video player for Windows, Mac,
HTML5, iOS and Android.
We conducted a separate pilot study to ensure that the
two content conditions induced the target emotions.
In the pilot study, 36 participants watched four video
contents: (a) amusing, (b) awe-inspiring showing a
grand vista on the mountains, (c) awe-inspiring
depicting a scene of tall trees in a forest, and (d) neutral
(hens wandering on grass). Each of the aforementioned
videos was created ad hoc by using ShotCut video-
editing free online tool (for further details, please see
Chirico et al., 2017). Participants were required to rate
the extent to which they experienced several different
emotional states using single items (1 = notatall,
7=extremely): anger, disgust, fear, pride, sadness, joy,
amusement, and awe. The pilot study revealed that awe-
inspiring video depicting a scene of tall trees in a forest
was the most effective one, and that neutral content
acted as a suitable contrast condition to analyze awe
intensity. A Wilcoxon-Signed Rank test indicated that
awe-inducing video displaying tall trees and awe-indu-
cing video displaying high mountains induced the high-
est levels of awe compared to the amusing video (tall
trees vs. amusement: Z = 4.100; p<0.001;high
mountains vs. amusement: Z = 3.999; p<0.001)and
to neutral one (tall trees vs. neutral: Z = 4.840;
p< 0.001; high mountains vs. neutral: Z = 4.861;
p< 0.001). At the same time, amusing video and
neutral one did not induce a signicantly different
level of awe (Z = 2.337; p = 0.02).
In this research, after each video, participants again
reported the extent to which they experienced the afore-
mentioned eight emotions using single items (from
1=not at all to7=extremely) (Chirico, Ferrise,
Cordella, & Gaggioli, 2018). At the same time, they
reported they level of vastness and need for accommoda-
tion (i.e., components of awe) on a 7-point Likert scale
(Chirico, Cipresso, & Yaden, et al., 2017).
Finally, after each video, participants completed the
Italian version of the subtest 4 (i.e., product improvement)
and 5 (i.e., unusual uses) of the TTCT (Torrance, 1974;
Torrance et al., 1989). Each of these subtests was scored
for uency, originality, and exibility. The whole experi-
ment lasted about 45 min.
Preliminary Data Analysis
Two normality tests (i.e., Kolmogorov-Smirnov and
Shapiro-Wilk) were carried out to determine if variables
were normally distributed. Because this condition was not
satised, a Wilcoxon Signed Rank test for each of the
creativity dimensions and awe components was carried
out, in order to test the effect of awe (vs. neutral stimulus)
on creativity.
Discriminant Ability of Each Stimulus
Results showed that awe-inducing video resulted in a sig-
nicantly higher score of awe (Mdn = 6.00) than the neutral
one (Mdn = 3.00, Z = 5.479, p< .001)], with a large effect
size (r
= 0.760). Descriptive statistics of each emotion induced
by Awe and Neutral inducing stimuli is reported in Table 1.
Moreover, to test the hypothesis that single awe components of
vastness and need for accommodation are equal across condi-
tion, a dependent sample t-test was performed. Because each
variable resulted as normally distributed, a dependent t-test
was carried out. Results showed statistically signicant differ-
ences in vastness, t(51) = 12.691, p<.001,andneedfor
accommodation, t(51) = 3.334, p< .001, dimensions of awe
across the two conditions. Participants reported a signicantly
higher sense of vastness in the awe condition (mean = 4.52;
SD = 1.045) compared to the neutral one (mean = 2.6;
SD = 1.50). At the same time, also the perception of the need
for accommodation was signicantly higher in the awe condi-
tion (mean = 2.82; SD = 1.356) than in the neutral one
(mean = 2.26; SD =1.058).
Awe and Creativity
Did the awe-inspiring video induce higher creativity levels
than the neutral one? Awe versus neutral videoscreativity
levels for each of the creativity subcomponents (i.e., u-
ency, exibility, originality, elaboration) and regarding each
subtest (i.e., product improvement and unusual uses) were
compared. Table 2 shows descriptive statistics concerning
creativity scores for product improvement subtest and unu-
sual uses subtest.
We carried out a Wilcoxon-Signed Ranks Test to com-
pare creativity subcomponents levels (i.e., uency, exibil-
ity, originality and elaboration) between the awe-inducing
and the neutral condition, and regarding each creativity
Results showed that awe-inspiring video induced signi-
cantly higher levels of uency (Z = 2.696; p< 0.001;
r = 0.374), exibility (Z = 3.782; p< 0.001; r = 0.524),
Anger, disgust, fear, pride, amusement, sadness, joy and awe
descriptive statistics in the awe and neutral condition
Awe Condition Neutral Condition
Measure M SD M SD Z p
Anger 1.56 1.127 1.83 1.382 -1.231 .218
Disgust 1.33 1.004 2.35 1.725 3.761 <.001
Fear 2.13 1.534 2.02 1.393 2.10 .834
Pride 2.27 1.548 1.79 1.362 2.614 .009
Amusement 3.77 1.926 3.94 2.033 8.57 .392
Sadness 1.83 1.491 1.77 1.409 1.99 .842
Joy 4.48 1.925 2.92 1.877 3.692 <.001
Awe 5.87 1.138 3.38 2.097 5.479 <.0001
Note. n = 52. Emotions scores were not all normally distributed.
Therefore, a Wilcoxon Signed Rank test was carried out to compare each
emotion level between awe and neutral condition.
originality (Z = 4.402; p< 0.001; r = 0.610) and elaboration
(Z = 3.233; p= 0.001; r = 0.448) in product improvement
subtest, compared with the neutral video. At the same time,
awe inspiring video induced signicantly higher levels of
uency (Z = 3.571; p< 0.001; r = 0.495), exibility
(Z = 4.541; p< 0.001; r = 0.629), originality (Z = 5.357;
p< 0.001; r = 0.742) and elaboration (Z = 3.778; p= 0.001;
r = 0.523) also in unusual uses subtest, compared with the
neutral video.
Finally, to test the causal relationship between creativity
and awe, a generalized linear model was carried out which
does not assume, necessarily, a normal distribution of
variables and can accept a violation of sphericity (Agresti &
Kateri, 2011). Because the hypotheses were based on the
single dimensions of awe (i.e., vastness and need for accom-
modation), as well as on the global measure of awe, the
model tested included awe, need for accommodation, and
vastness measures for predicting each creativity dimension
for both subtests. All models tested are reported here Tabl e 3.
The global measure of awe resulted a signicant predic-
tor of uency, exibility and elaboration for product
improvement subtest. Originality was not affected by awe.
Creativity dimensions of unusual uses subtest were not
signicantly affected by perceived awe.
This research examined the impact of awe on creativity
using an advanced emotion-induction procedure: immersion
within VR. Awe is a complex emotion that is difcult to
reproduce or induce in laboratory settings. However, the
existing literature highlighted that only an optimal emo-
tional intensity level could impact creativity (Davis, 2009).
Because it was demonstrated that VR can enhance the level
of awe even in the lab (Chirico, Cipresso, & Gaggioli,
2017), VR was introduced to maximize the probability to
detect the effect of this emotion on creativity, if one actually
existed. Specically, it was hypothesized that due to awe
cognitive appraisal and ambivalent emotional valence, this
emotion could impact creativity.
These hypotheses were partially supported by the nd-
ings. Awe-inducing condition was followed by a higher
level of creativity than the neutral (control) condition.
With respect to previous research contrasting emotions
with a neutral content (Baas et al., 2008), it was found
that awe affected key creativity componentsuidity, ex-
ibility, and elaboration measured by the product improve-
ment subtestcompared to the neutral stimulus. This could
be a further instance supporting a more integrative approach
toward creativity-emotion link. It could be useful to carry on
the study of other complex emotions, as it has successfully
Generalized linear model statistics
Vastness Need for Accommodation Awe Global
TTCT Subtest Creativity dimension B χ
Sign. B χ
Sign. B χ
Product Improvement Fluency 1.890 3.019 p = .08 0.269 0.129 p = .719 2.07 5.634 <.05
Product Improvement Flexibility .575 1.193 p = .275 -0.189 0.273 p = .6001 .900 4.514 <.05
Product Improvement Elaboration 2.602 2.215 p = .137 .052 .002 p = .966 2.792 3.938 <.05
Product Improvement Originality 1.770 .970 p = .325 0.219 .031 p = .860 2.280 2.487 p = .115
Unusual Uses Fluency 1.087 .813 p = .367 .875 1.111 p = .292 .545 .316 p = .574
Unusual Uses Flexibility 0.199 .088 p = .767 .675 2.136 p = .144 .129 .057 p = .812
Unusual Uses Elaboration 1.124 .589 p = .443 .480 .227 p = .634 .655 .308 p = .579
Unusual Uses Originality .897 .412 p = .512 .588 .373 p = .541 .482 .183 p = .668
Note. n = 52.
Creativity scores for each condition: Descriptive statistics of uency,
exibility, originality and elaboration, for each creativity subtest (i.e.,
Product improvement and unusual uses)
TTCT Subtest Condition Creativity dimension M SD
Product Improvement Awe Fluency 8.096 6.678
Product Improvement Neutral Fluency 5.096 3.942
Unusual Uses Awe Fluency 9.442 7.185
Unusual Uses Neutral Fluency 5.211 4.629
Product Improvement Awe Flexibility 6.461 3.178
Product Improvement Neutral Flexibility 4.230 2.798
Unusual Uses Awe Flexibility 7.038 3.990
Unusual Uses Neutral Flexibility 3.846 2.851
Product Improvement Awe Elaboration 12.596 10.496
Product Improvement Neutral Elaboration 7.307 5.939
Unusual Uses Awe Elaboration 11.980 8.555
Unusual Uses Neutral Elaboration 6.462 6.082
Product Improvement Awe Originality 12.500 10.617
Product Improvement Neutral Originality 6.212 6.007
Unusual Uses Awe Originality 11.481 8.164
Unusual Uses Neutral Originality 5.019 4.957
Note. n = 52.
been done with nostalgia (Holak & Havlena, 1998; van
Tilburg, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2015), to investigate the
impact of simultaneous emotions on human cognitive pro-
cesses. This would reconnect experimental study of emo-
tions to their real-life occurrence. At a higher level, it was
shown that inducing awe positively inuenced creative
The experimental design and our results are preliminary;
however, the implications of this study are more extensive.
First, this is the rst study explicitly investigating the rela-
tionships between awe and creativity, suggesting the exis-
tence of a causal link. This contributed to improving
knowledge about the role of this complex emotion, which
includes other emotional subcomponents (i.e., joy, sadness,
fear), on creativity emergence. Indeed, emotions are usually
blended in real life, and it is rare to live only a pure emotion
alone. However, research has focused mainly on moods or
single discrete emotional states (Davis, 2009). Experimental
psychology has long considered emotions as moods or
single discrete emotional states, and this led to increasing
the gap with reality. On the other hand, organizational
psychology attempted to reduce this gap by introducing
concepts such as simultaneous, mixed, and ambivalent emo-
tional states (Fong, 2006; Jovanovic et al., 2016). However,
the prototypical case of the complex and ambivalent emo-
tion of awe has not been considered yet.
This is the rst study that addressed, explicitly, the link
between this emotion and creativity. Given the complex
nature of both these processes, a suitable technique able to
control for the impact of awe on creativity was required.
Indeed, other disciplines, such as environmental psy-
chology, have focused on the effects of spacious stimuli
in enhancing creativity (van Rompay & Jol, 2016), or on
the impact of schema violation on creativity (Ritter et al.,
2012). However, VR can allow integrating all these pre-
vious manipulations, thus inducing an intense version of
the complex emotion of awe in a safe and controlled
setting (Chirico et al., 2016b). For instance, the degree
of schema violation could be manipulated along with the
level of vastness, thus exploring their impact on creativity
dimensions. VR is a source of paradoxical experiences, as
Ritter and colleagues (2012) demonstrated. It is possible
to combine this potential with the spatial dimension of
VR to explore the weight of each of these components on
awe emergence and on a subsequent creativity task.
Finally, VR allows for inducing a quite intense and
ambivalent version of awe, which is closer to awe in
the real life (Chirico, Cipresso, & Yaden, et al., 2017).
This allows for carefully managing and exploring this
complex feeling, even in a controlled setting. In other
words, since awe is a delicate emotion entailing intense
mixed emotional components (especially a component of
fear), it requires a special technique to be safely induced.
VR can be this technique.
Despite the potential of awe in enhancing creativity, some
limitations exist. This study could be improved mainly in
four ways. First, the effect of other potential intervenient
emotions on creativity was carefully controlled by adding a
neutral condition. With this regard, the contents of the two
videos were comparable. They both displayed natural
scenes, either of tall trees or of hens wandering. However,
only a neutral and an awe-inspiring content were consid-
ered, and it could be relevant to compare awe-contents with
stimuli conveying positive or negative emotions. This
would evidence the creative potential of awe as a complex
emotion, with respect to other basic emotions with a dened
valence. For instance, future studies could proceed by con-
trasting the effect of awe with other negatively and posi-
tively valenced emotions, such as amusement or pride. This
would allow controlling for the effect of other potentially
intervenient variables.
Second, the sample size was small, therefore, it could be
useful to test the awe-creativity link with a larger sample.
More, the focused was oriented toward a measure of crea-
tive potential, which is creative thinking, but it could be
interesting to investigate the impact of awe on creativity in
terms of performance (e.g., OQuin & Besemer, 2006).
Finally, it was considered a specic natural awe-inducing
content (i.e., tall trees), in line with literature on this emo-
tion. However, it could be useful also to take into account if
different scenarios, such as abstract environments, or inter-
actional awe-inspiring experiences, where more people
navigate the same environment, could impact similarly on
Future Research
This study makes a rst contribution to an emerging eld of
research in creativity studiesthe relationship between awe
and other complex emotions and creative thinkingand, in
the future, several other domains of creativity could be
included, such as music, education, sports. Awe could be
used to enhance creativity in different domains, and this is
an open empirical question with great practical conse-
quences. VR was previously used to address the relationship
between paradoxical situations and creativity (Ritter et al.,
2012). However, no one focused on intense complex emo-
tions and creativity. One reason could be an ethical concern
(i.e., sometimes awe can be a disruptive emotional state)
and the difcult to induce intense blended emotional states
into controlled settings. Virtual Reality can help address
both issues by opening a new eld of analysis on the
emotion-creativity link.
An overall implication of this research could be to bring
awe back to the everyday contexts of participants and
develop guidelines for translating these initial research nd-
ings into actual creative performance. With this regard, a
further step could be to assess creative performance and not
only participantscreative potential.
At a theoretical level, it is important for future works to
explore the reasons why experiences of awe enhance crea-
tive thinking. The common conceptual explanation found in
the literature postulates the combined effect of perceiving
vastness and the need for accommodation. However, it
would be useful in subsequent studies to include other
potential mediators of the impact of awe on creativity. To
this aim, also alternative theoretical frameworks should also
be explored. For instance, Glaveanu (2017) recently pro-
posed that wonder can stimulate creativity but placing peo-
ple in a meta-position, one from which multiple perspectives
on the world become available. Experiences of awe could,
in fact, help people adopt such a meta-position and, in
effect, stimulate wonder and the exploration of new ideas.
The mediated effect of wonder should be explored in future
research, to unpack further the complex relationship
between awe and creativity.
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... Similarly, awe itself promotes broaden-and-building by increasing prosocial behavior (Piff et al., 2015;Darbor et al., 2016;Chen and Mongrain, 2020;Fogarty, 2020;Perlin and Li, 2020), nature-relatedness and ecological behavior (Shapshay et al., 2018;Yang et al., 2018;Zhao et al., 2018), and creativity (Chirico et al., 2018). Moreover, classic psychedelic-induced increases in openness to new experiences may pave the way to more frequent ordinary experiences of awe (Hendricks, 2018). ...
... Moreover, classic psychedelic-induced increases in openness to new experiences may pave the way to more frequent ordinary experiences of awe (Hendricks, 2018). Awe has also been shown to increase flexibility and create more accommodating mental frameworks (Chirico et al., 2018). ...
... Might it be that the same classic psychedelic-induced alterations in cognition that can lead to feelings of insight or deep thoughts (Wießner et al., 2021) could facilitate bizarre thought processes? Even if this is the case, it is far from unique to classic psychedelics, as other instances of information overload, such as nonsubstancefacilitated awe, can also sometimes increase creativity (Chirico et al., 2018) as well as supernatural beliefs in some individuals (Valdesolo and Graham, 2014). ...
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... Another study recalls Torrance's 1965 work and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), finding a direct causal relationship between awe and creative thinking (Chirico et al., 2018). Both studies align and validate my own research and the common shared theme of wonder amongst the DBs. ...
... Both studies align and validate my own research and the common shared theme of wonder amongst the DBs. Their life stories describe experiences that were stimulating and appear to challenge and expand their mental frames (Chirico et al., 2018), hence Torrance's (1993) term of the Beyonder. ...
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... Recently, evidence has built that particular, one-off experiences can influence creative thinking. Chirico et al. (2018) induced a feeling of awe in participants by immersing them in a 3D virtual reality experience, and found an increase in their creativity scores compared to a control group. Similarly, Rastelli et al. (2022) induced a dream-like psychedelic state using VR and found that it increased cognitive flexibility. ...
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Creativity is a valuable commodity. Research has revealed some identifying characteristics of creative people and some of the emotional states that can bring out the most creativity in all of us. It has also been shown that the long-term experience of different cultures and lifestyles that is the result of travel and immigration can also enhance creativity. However, the role of one-off, extreme, or unusual experiences on creativity has not been directly observed before. In part, that may be because, by their very nature, such experiences are very difficult to bring into the laboratory. Here, we brought the tools and empirical methods of the laboratory into the wild, measuring the psychological effects of a unique multisensory experience: an underwater nightclub. We showed – with fully randomized and experimentally controlled conditions – that such an experience boosted measures of divergent thinking in participants. This demonstrates that one element of creativity can be directly enhanced by unusual situations, and that experimental tools of psychology can be used to investigate a range of consumer experiences.
Consciousness is a complex construct that has been defined in different ways throughout history. Among many, Damasio (Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 353:1879–1882, 1998) defined consciousness as the awareness of the self and, in this and many other perspectives, the self and the concept of awareness represent fundamental elements in the definition of consciousness. Moreover, their integration across a multidimensional perception through time allows us to consider consciousness as a nonunitary construct. Indeed, there is no such a thing as a single consciousness but rather several states of consciousness that constantly flow through each others and define the awareness of our self in a specific moment in time. The entry will propose a historical overview of the concept of consciousness, focusing on two fundamental elements of this construct: the self and the awareness of the self. The entry will then introduce the concept of states of consciousness, which emerges from a nonunitary perspective of the original construct. From a nonunitary consciousness, the entry will present the concepts of dissociation, ecstasy, and trance, considering how these concepts can be reframed outside the Western point of view to trace a path to a transformative self.
Es ist leicht, sich auf die eigene momentane Situation zu konzentrieren, ohne sich in das Gesamtbild einzuordnen. Wenn Sie wirklich das große Ganze sehen wollen, müssen Sie erkennen, wie endlich wir alle sind, dass wir leicht ersetzbar sind und dass es keine Option ist, sich als Opfer zu fühlen. Es werden Werkzeuge zur Verfügung gestellt, mit denen man sich bewusst machen kann, was in einem und um einen herum geschieht.
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In existing literature on awe, many research findings indicate the positive impact of awe on prosocial behavior. However, very few studies examined awe in organizational contexts, and researchers neglected to investigate the effect of awe introduced by workplace elicitors. In a between-subject experimental study (N = 264), we introduced awe elicited by work factors, and examined its effect on prosocial intention and behavior (as compared with neutral and pleasant emotion conditions). The results showed significant differences between prosocial intention and prosocial behavior in the three conditions. Importantly, awe evoked by workplace elicitors has a significant positive effect on prosocial behavior, and prosocial intention mediates this relationship. This study is among the first to examine the impact of awe introduced by workplace elicitors, which suggests that managers may create workplaces that inspire awe.
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Previous work suggests that unexpected and surprising experiences ( e.g ., living in another culture or looking at surreal images) promotes creative thinking. This targeted literature review examines whether the inherent cognitive disruption associated with experiencing the seemingly impossible has a similar effect. Correlational and experimental research across six domains (entertainment magic, fantasy play, virtual reality and computer gaming, dreaming, science fiction/fantasy, and anomalous experiences) provided consistent support for the hypothesis. In addition, anecdotal evidence illustrated the possible impact that the creative output associated with each of these areas may have had on technology, science, and the arts. It is argued that impossible experiences are an important driver of creative thinking, thus accounting for reports of such experiences across the lifespan and throughout history. The theoretical and practical implications of this work are discussed, along with recommendations for future research.
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Awe is a little-studied emotion with a great transformative potential. Therefore, the interest towards the study of awe’s underlying mechanisms has been increased. Specifically, researchers have been interested in how to reproduce intense feelings of awe within laboratory conditions. It has been proposed that the use of Virtual Reality (VR) could be an effective way to induce awe in controlled experimental settings, thanks to its ability of providing participants with a sense of “presence”, that is, the subjective feeling of being displaced in another physical or imaginary place. However, the potential of VR as awe-inducing medium has not been fully tested yet. In the present study, we provided an evidence-based design and a validation of four immersive virtual environments (VEs) involving 36 participants in a within-subject design. Of these, three VEs were designed to induce awe, whereas the fourth VE was targeted as an emotionally-neutral stimulus. Participants self-reported the extent to which they felt awe, general affect and sense of presence related to each environment. As expected, results showed that awe-VEs could induce significantly higher levels of awe and presence as compared to the neutral VE. Furthermore, these VEs induced significantly more positive than negative affect. These findings supported the potential of immersive VR for inducing awe and provide useful indications for the design of awe-inspiring virtual environments.
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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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Can we feel emotions about abstract objects, assuming that abstract objects exist? I argue that at least some emotions can have abstract objects as their intentional objects and discuss why this conclusion is not just trivially true. Through critical engagement with the work of Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, I devote special attention to awe, an emotion that is particularly well suited to show that some emotions can be about either concrete or abstract objects. In responding to a possible objection, according to which we can only feel emotions about things that we take to matter to our flourishing, and thus cannot feel emotions about causally inefficacious abstract objects, I explore how abstract objects can be relevant to human flourishing and discuss some emotions other than awe that can be about abstract objects. I finish by explaining some reasons why my conclusion matters, including the fact that it presents a challenge to perceptual theories of emotion and causal theories of intentionality.
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The emotion of awe is characterized by the perception of vastness and a need for accommodation, which can include a positive and/or negative valence. While a number of studies have successfully manipulated this emotion, the issue of how to elicit particularly intense awe experiences in laboratory settings remains. We suggest that virtual reality (VR) is a particularly effective mood induction tool for eliciting awe. VR provides three key assets for improving awe. First, VR provides users with immersive and ecological yet controlled environments that can elicit a sense of " presence, " the subjective experience of " being there " in a simulated reality. Further, VR can be used to generate complex, vast stimuli, which can target specific theoretical facets of awe. Finally, VR allows for convenient tracking of participants' behavior and physiological responses, allowing for more integrated assessment of emotional experience. We discussed the potential and challenges of the proposed approach with an emphasis on VR's capacity to raise the signal of reactions to emotions such as awe in laboratory settings.
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Awe is an intense and complex emotion arising in response to stimuli that are vast and difficult to accommodate. Due to its complex nature, capturing an intense version of awe in a lab remains a challenge. One of the conventional techniques used to induce awe are videos stimuli. Despite their effectiveness, we suggest that 360° videos could be used to elicit a more intense version of awe in the lab, which can be deeply captured by a psychophysiological assessment of this emotion. To test this hypothesis, we recorded psychophysiological activity of 30 participants (15 females and 15 males) watching neutral vs. awe-inspiring videos displayed either on a flat or 360° immersive screen, by two within subject conditions, namely content (awe vs. neutral) x medium (2D vs. 360°). In details, two videos depicted a scene of hens wandering (i.e., neutral content) and were presented either on a flat or 360° immersive screen. Also the other two videos were presented either on a flat or 360° immersive screens but showed a forest of tall trees (i.e., awe content). Order of presentation of each video was counterbalanced for each subject. Blood Volume Pulse (BVP) was recorded using a photoplethysmograph sensor. Skin conductance (SC) was recorded using two electrodes attached to the dominant hand. Corrugator Supercilii and Zygomatic Major muscles was recorded using facial superficial electromyography (sEMG). All the signals were recorded during each video session (2 min length) using a ProComp Infinity 8-channel (Thought Technology Ltd, Montreal, Canada). The sampling rate was set at 256 Hz. Heart rate variability (HRV) measures were computed by using custom script in Matlab 7.10.0 (R2010a), to analyze the Inter-Beat Interval (IBI) extracted from the Blood Volume Pulse sensor, a measure equivalent to 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 Electrophysiology, typical temporal and spectral HRV measures were extracted to evaluate the response of the autonomic nervous system. In particular, The rhythms were classified 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. Temporal domain was investigated by the means of heart rate (HR) and its standard deviation (SDRR). Our results showed that participants watching an awe both on 360° or 2D video displayed a higher parasympathetic activation as highlighted by higher HF. Moreover, VR stimuli showed a greater sympathetic activation independently from the emotional condition (awe vs. neutral), with higher VLF, LF, HR, SDRR and SC. In line with literature, EMG showed no significant changes. Our results showed that awe leads to a paralyzing “freezing” at autonomic nervous system level.
The experience of wonder is often said to be at the origin of acts of creativity, both historical and mundane, from big breakthroughs in science to the everyday discoveries of children at play. And yet, wonder and wondering have rarely been theorized until now, at least in the psychology of creativity. Understood as one of the main ways in which we engage with the possible, wonder presents us, upon closer inspection, with a paradox typical for creativity—experiencing what is present (the here and now) through the lenses of what is absent (the not-yet-here). Wondering is grounded in the possibility of adopting multiple perspectives on a certain reality; many of which are yet unknown to the creator while anticipated and actively looked for. In this paper, the creative process fuelled by the experience of wonder is described as a cyclical interplay between awareness, excitement, and exploration of the possible. Thus, one of the main consequences of reflecting on wonder and wondering is not only a renewed focus on process in creativity research but, most of all, a new emphasis on the less “visible” and yet essential aspects of creative action as it bridges the actual and the possible.
The subject of creativity has been neglected by psychologists. The immediate problem has two aspects. (1) How can we discover creative promise in our children and our youth, (2) How can we promote the development of creative personalities. Creative talent cannot be accounted for adequately in terms of I.Q. A new way of thinking about creativity and creative productivity is seen in the factorial conceptions of personality. By application of factor analysis a fruitful exploratory approach can be made. Carefully constructed hypotheses concerning primary abilities will lead to the use of novel types of tests. New factors will be discovered that will provide us with means to select individuals with creative personalities. The properties of primary abilities should be studied to improve educational methods and further their utilization. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Theoretical conceptualizations of awe suggest this emotion can be more positive or negative depending on specific appraisal processes. However, the emergent scientific study of awe rarely emphasizes its negative side, classifying it instead as a positive emotion. In the present research we tested whether there is a more negative variant of awe that arises in response to vast, complex stimuli that are threatening (e.g., tornadoes, terrorist attack, wrathful god). We discovered people do experience this type of awe with regularity (Studies 1 & 4) and that it differs from other variants of awe in terms of its underlying appraisals, subjective experience, physiological correlates, and consequences for well-being. Specifically, threat-based awe experiences were appraised as lower in self-control and certainty and higher in situational control than other awe experiences, and were characterized by greater feelings of fear (Studies 2a & 2b). Threat-based awe was associated with physiological indicators of increased sympathetic autonomic arousal, whereas positive awe was associated with indicators of increased parasympathetic arousal (Study 3). Positive awe experiences in daily life (Study 4) and in the lab (Study 5) led to greater momentary well-being (compared with no awe experience), whereas threat-based awe experiences did not. This effect was partially mediated by increased feelings of powerlessness during threat-based awe experiences. Together, these findings highlight a darker side of awe.