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Creativity Research Journal
ISSN: 1040-0419 (Print) 1532-6934 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hcrj20
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
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2018.1446491
Published online: 20 Apr 2018.
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Awe Enhances Creative Thinking: An Experimental
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
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 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.
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 us—perhaps forever. …At this
most terrible moment in our young lives, and despite
our fears, we felt a strangely overwhelming sense that
something magniﬁcent was taking place, that we were
being immersed together in something—some process—
that was inﬁnitely 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 ﬁeld (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. Speciﬁcally, this emotion arises in
front of “massive”stimuli (pragmatically or conceptually;
Silvia, Fayn, Nusbaum, & Beaty, 2015;p.377)abletochal-
lenge and expand individuals’mental 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL,30(2), 123–131, 2018
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-0419 print/1532-6934 online
been demonstrated that awe can enlarge people’smental
frames (e.g., Rudd, Vohs, & Aaker, 2012; Silvia et al., 2015;
Sung & Yih, 2015).
By expanding people’s mental frames, awe could also help
them ﬁnd new connections among objects or ideas. Speciﬁcally,
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 awe’s cognitive com-
ponents, creative thinking is the ability to recombine ideas and
to ﬁnd 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). Speciﬁcally,
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 ﬁnding 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 afﬁnity 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 individuals’life (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
people’s perception of time (Rudd et al., 2012), support
spiritual beliefs (Van Cappellen & Saroglou, 2012), and
affect people’body 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 peoples’general 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 people’scurrent
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 people’mental 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, ﬁnding new possible combinations
(Guilford, 1959,1967; Torrance, 1974,1969; Torrance,
Sprini, & Tomasello, 1989). Awe could open new perspectives
even on a speciﬁc task, thus helping ﬁnd new possible solu-
tions. In other words, awe can make mental frames more
ﬂexible 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., ﬂuency and originality) in a
sample of high school students ranging from 13 to 15 years
old. Here, it was hypothesized that, also, adults’mental
frames can be affected by such spacious stimuli.
124 A. CHIRICO ET AL.
One of the main hypotheses of our work is that common
awe elicitors, such as a forest of tall trees, can enhance the
ﬂuency 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 deﬁned 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 ﬂexibility
(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 ﬂexibility 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. Speciﬁcally, according to the reference model
of Keltner and Haidt (2003), different ﬂavors of awe (i.e.,
threat, beauty, ability, virtue; supernatural causality) exist and
depend on speciﬁc 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 deﬁned 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, &
CREATIVITY AND EMOTIONS
The interest in the relationship between awe and creativity is
rooted in the wider and well-established ﬁeldofemotionand
creativity (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008;Kaufmann&
Vosburg, 2002; Lin, Tsai, Lin, & Chen, 2014). Speciﬁcally,
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: ﬂuency (the number of ideas generated), ﬂexibility (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 Torrance’sdimensionsintothree
categories (ﬂuency, cognitive ﬂexibility, 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 speciﬁc 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 speciﬁc dimensions of creativity. They also found that,
generally, positive and activating moods, compared with neutral
ones, increased mainly cognitive ﬂexibility component.
Moreover, fear and anger (i.e., negative moods) were related to
increased originality and ﬂuency, but not with cognitive ﬂex-
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 ﬂexibility. 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 awe’s ambivalent nature could contribute
to make people more sensitive to new and uncommon
relationship among ideas and object, thus impacting on
their cognitive ﬂexibility.
However, no study has addressed yet the relationship
between awe and creativity.
THIS RESEARCH: AWE AND CREATIVITY IN
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 RESEARCH JOURNAL 125
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
ﬁeld, and it can bring evidence about the causal links
between awe and creativity for the ﬁrst time.
Second, to assess the generality of awe’s 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 speciﬁc moods. Some procedure led
to greater intensity longer-lasting emotional states than
others. Speciﬁcally, Ellard, Farchione, and Barlow (2012)
argued that it exists a suitable procedure for each speciﬁc
emotional state, thus impacting on the quality of the experi-
Therefore, the emotion-induction procedure needs to be
considered carefully when it comes to studying the impact
of speciﬁc 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 ﬁeld (Silvia et al., 2015).
In this research, participants were exposed to two vali-
dated VR contents. The ﬁrst 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 speciﬁcally 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 ﬁxed 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) ﬁrst 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
126 A. CHIRICO ET AL.
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 signiﬁcantly 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 ﬂuency, originality, and ﬂexibility. 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
satisﬁed, 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)
Discriminant Ability of Each Stimulus
Results showed that awe-inducing video resulted in a sig-
niﬁcantly higher score of awe (Mdn = 6.00) than the neutral
one (Mdn = 3.00, Z = −5.479, p< .001)], with a large effect
= 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 signiﬁcant 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 signiﬁcantly
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 signiﬁcantly 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 videos’creativity
levels for each of the creativity subcomponents (i.e., ﬂu-
ency, ﬂexibility, 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., ﬂuency, ﬂexibil-
ity, originality and elaboration) between the awe-inducing
and the neutral condition, and regarding each creativity
Results showed that awe-inspiring video induced signiﬁ-
cantly higher levels of ﬂuency (Z = −2.696; p< 0.001;
r = 0.374), ﬂexibility (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.
CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL 127
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 signiﬁcantly higher levels of
ﬂuency (Z = −3.571; p< 0.001; r = 0.495), ﬂexibility
(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
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 signiﬁcant predic-
tor of ﬂuency, ﬂexibility and elaboration for product
improvement subtest. Originality was not affected by awe.
Creativity dimensions of unusual uses subtest were not
signiﬁcantly 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 difﬁcult 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. Speciﬁcally, 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 ﬁnd-
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 components—ﬂuidity, ﬂex-
ibility, and elaboration measured by the product improve-
ment subtest—compared 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 ﬂuency,
ﬂexibility, 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.
128 A. CHIRICO ET AL.
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 inﬂuenced creative
The experimental design and our results are preliminary;
however, the implications of this study are more extensive.
First, this is the ﬁrst 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 ﬁrst 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 deﬁned
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
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., O’Quin & Besemer, 2006).
Finally, it was considered a speciﬁc 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
This study makes a ﬁrst contribution to an emerging ﬁeld of
research in creativity studies—the relationship between awe
and other complex emotions and creative thinking—and, 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 difﬁcult to induce intense blended emotional states
into controlled settings. Virtual Reality can help address
both issues by opening a new ﬁeld of analysis on the
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 ﬁnd-
ings into actual creative performance. With this regard, a
CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL 129
further step could be to assess creative performance and not
only participants’creative 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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