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In most studies on awe, the stimuli used to elicit the emotion involves nature, music, space, or grand theories – but awe elicited by the actions of other people has generally not been studied in depth. In the few cases in which the social component of awe has been acknowledged, the focus has been on charismatic leaders. The current study explores this social aspect of awe by asking whether awe can be elicited in close interpersonal relationships and how this experience may be distinct from awe elicited by other stimuli. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches in a mixed-methods study (N = 636), we found empirical support for the notion that awe is elicited in the context of close relationships. Awe was elicited by close others compared to a neutral control, although the interpersonal form of awe was less intense than awe caused by nature. Qualitative analyses revealed that awe triggered by nature was defined by themes of beauty, while interpersonal awe was defined by themes of virtue or excellence of character.
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Interpersonal awe: Exploring the social domain of
awe elicitors
Marianna Graziosi & David Yaden
To cite this article: Marianna Graziosi & David Yaden (2019): Interpersonal awe:
Exploring the social domain of awe elicitors, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI:
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Published online: 14 Nov 2019.
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Interpersonal awe: Exploring the social domain of awe elicitors
Marianna Graziosi and David Yaden
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
In most studies on awe, the stimuli used to elicit the emotion involves nature, music, space, or
grand theories but awe elicited by the actions of other people has generally not been studied in
depth. In the few cases in which the social component of awe has been acknowledged, the focus
has been on charismatic leaders. The current study explores this social aspect of awe by asking
whether awe can be elicited in close interpersonal relationships and how this experience may be
distinct from awe elicited by other stimuli. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches in
a mixed-methods study (N = 636), we found empirical support for the notion that awe is elicited in
the context of close relationships. Awe was elicited by close others compared to a neutral control,
although the interpersonal form of awe was less intense than awe caused by nature. Qualitative
analyses revealed that awe triggered by nature was dened by themes of beauty, while inter-
personal awe was dened by themes of virtue or excellence of character.
Received 7 September 2019
Accepted 8 October 2019
Awe; awe experience;
positive emotion;
relationships; well-being
Awe is the feeling that overtakes astronauts as they gaze
down on the earth from space, grips listeners as they
hear a beautiful symphony, or overwhelms one while
contemplating a truly brilliant idea. At least, these are
the kinds of triggers that we usually associate with awe.
But what about awe about and between people? This
study explores social, as opposed to solitary, triggers
of awe.
Keltner and Haidt (2003) describe awe as an emotion
that must involve an encounter with a perceptually vast
stimulus and that elicits a need for accommodation.
Subsequent work on awe since Keltner and Haidt
(2003) article has further unpacked the rst necessary
condition of awe, that of vastness. Research has shown
that awe can be elicited by literally vast objects, such as
nature or space (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015; Rudd, Vohs, &
Aaker, 2012; Silvia, Fayn, Nusbaum, & Beaty, 2015), as
well as guratively vast objects, such as spiritual experi-
ences, and grand theories (Preston & Shin, 2016; Yaden
et al., 2016). The second necessary condition of awe (i.e.
accommodation) is that it compels one to alter some
aspect of their mental representation of the world.
Colloquially, it is said that awe is mind-blowingand
this an apt phrase to capture the cognitive component
that is purported to accompany an experience of awe.
There are other components of awe beyond the two
denitional features (i.e. vastness and accommodation).
Researchers have isolated some of these other qualities
of awe by creating a scale that measures the various
domains of awe experience, without using the word
awein any of its questions (Awe Experience Scale;
Yaden, Haidt, Hood, Vago, & Newberg, 2018). That awe
induction leads to a small sense of self (i.e. self-
diminishment) has been empirically demonstrated in
a wide variety of studies (Bai et al., 2017;Pi, Dietze,
Feinberg, Stancato, & Keltner, 2015; Preston & Shin,
2016; Stellar et al., 2018). More importantly, this small
sense of self was found to be signicantly higher for awe
when compared to the other positive emotions of amu-
sement, contentment, gratitude, interest, joy, love and
pride (Campos, Shiota, Keltner, Gonzaga, & Goetz, 2013).
Awe has also been found to alter perceptions in various
other ways. For instance, awe has been related to an
altered perception of time, where participants feel time
as taking on an expansiveness (Rudd et al., 2012)or
slowing down (Joye & Dewitte, 2016).
Awe has been found to lead to improvements in well-
being and prosocial behavior. One study found that
awe-induction increased perceived time-availability,
reduced impatience and led to increases in perceived
life-satisfaction (Rudd et al., 2012). In recent work by
Anderson, Monroy, and Keltner (2018), the awe experi-
enced by military veterans and underserved youth pre-
dicted these participantsincreased well-being scores
and decreased stress responses at a one-week follow-
up. Other work has found that awe-induction led to
positive eects on mood (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015)as
well as serving as a buer against negative mood (Koh,
CONTACT Marianna Graziosi
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Tong, & Yuen, 2017). Awe induction has also been found
to relate to both prosocial values and behaviors (Joye &
Bolderdijk, 2015;Piet al., 2015; Prade & Saroglou, 2016;
Rudd et al., 2012).
In their foundational work on awe, Keltner and Haidt
(2003) discuss the potential for social elicitors of awe.
They suggest that this social domain of awe is one where
awe is a response to charismatic leaders, which can be
either positive or negative. Keltner and Haidt (2003) also
suggest, however, that the sort of awe experienced
interpersonally can be involve more than just social
dominance. For instance, their avorsof awe that
include beauty, virtue and ability seem to allude to an
interpersonal element (see Appendix A for the original
framework proposed by Keltner and Haidt in 2003).
While some beauty, virtue, and ability might be said to
be objectively vast, there are others experiences that
might be said to be relatively vast. Take the example of
watching ones child struggle for months to stand, they
nally take their rst steps. While this sight might seem
dull to a passer-by, this small step is an accomplishment
of enormous proportions for the proud parent.
There seem to be qualities of the experience of the
emotion elevation, that accompany (or overlap) with this
category of social awe elicitors. Elevation refers to our
emotional response to witnessing the virtuous acts of
others (Haidt, 2000). Elevation has been found to lead to
feelings of inspiration and uplift (Aquino, McFerran, &
Laven, 2011) Schall, Roper, and Fessler (2010); Silvers &
Haidt, 2008) and to have physiological qualities such as
tearing up and experiencing warm feelings in the chest
(Haidt, 2000). Furthermore, elevation (like awe) has been
found to elicit chills or goosebumps (Silvers & Haidt, 2008).
Additionally, like awe, elevation has been linked with pro-
social tendencies (Aquino et al., 2011; Schall et al., 2010;
Silvers & Haidt, 2008).
The current study seeks to determine whether awe
can be elicited by those closest to us in order to add to
the social domain of possible awe elicitors. This study rst
uses a mixed-method approach to determine if there are
dierences between recollections of awe elicited in nat-
ure versus awe elicited by other people. Second, this
study seeks to make use of qualitative data analysis in
order to better appreciate the thematic dierences
between these two categories of awe elicitors.
Study 1a quantitative analyses
A total of 893 participants were recruited and provided
consent using the online survey platform Amazon
Mechanical Turk. The Institutional Review Board at the
rst authors University approved this study.
Participant characteristics. Online research methods
are prone to a great deal of subject loss for this reason
the authors emphasized collecting a large sample.
A total of 893 participants originally responded to the
survey and began taking it. Of those, 235 participants
started the survey, but did not complete it and were
removed from analyses. Additionally, 22 participants n-
ished the survey, but did not respond to the recollection
task with a story instead they copied and pasted con-
tent from the internet, wrote a random string of letters
and numbers, or copied and pasted the question instruc-
tions from the prompt into the response box. Despite
losing these participants, a reasonably large sample size
(N= 636) remained, which is more than twice the sample
size of most past studies on awe research.
The mean age of the sample (N= 636) was 35.72
(SD = 10.76), 51.1% identied as male and 48.9% identi-
ed as female. 73% identied as Non-Hispanic white,
8.5% identied as Black or African American, 9.9% iden-
tied as Asian or Asian American, 0.2% identied as
American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.7% identied as
LatinX and 5.3% identied as Mixed Race or Biracial.
Recollection task prompts. The three emotion condi-
tions that represented the dierent awe elicitors targeted
by this study included: 1) interpersonal awe (awe elicited
by a close loved one) 2) awe in nature, and 3) general
positivity (targeting positive emotions of contentment or
joy). Emotional states were induced by asking participants
to write about a time when they had experienced awe in
either a natural or interpersonal setting or a positive emo-
tion in general. The recollection task prompts were
adapted from previous research by Rudd et al. (2012). The
writing prompt used for the interpersonal awe condition
Awe is our emotional response to things perceived to be
vast and astonishing that alters the way we understand
the world. Please describe a recent experience of awe
where one of your loved ones caused you to feel this
way. Try to tell the story exactly as you experienced, from
your point of view, in as much detail as possible. Feel free
to write as much as youd like.
The prompt used for the awe in nature condition was:
Awe is our emotional response to things perceived to be vast
and astonishing that alters the way we understand the
world. Please describe a recent experience of awe where
nature caused you to feel this way. Try to tell the story exactly
as you experienced, from your point of view, in as much
detail as possible. Feel free to write as much as youdlike.
The prompt used for the general positivity condi-
tion was:
Please describe a recent experience where you were happy
and remember feeling contentment or joy. Try to tell the
story exactly as you experienced, from your point of view,
in as much detail as possible. Feel free to write as much as
youd like.
Awe. The Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S) developed by
Yaden and colleagues (2018) was given in its entirety to
participants. This scale contains six subscales that target
the various qualities associated with awe experience,
they are: vastness, accommodation, self-diminishment,
, time alteration, and physiological
responses (Yaden et al., 2018). It is important to note
that this scale does not use the word awein the body of
any of its questions. Up until now, researchers have
relied on single-item self-report measures of awe nested
within a set of items drawn from the PANAS.
Participants were presented with statements and then
asked to evaluate the degree to which they agreed with the
given statement on a 7-point scale ranging from 1
(Strongly Disagree)to7(Strongly Agree). The subscales
were found to be reliable: vastness (α= .87), accommoda-
tion (α= .76), self-diminishment (α= .90), connectedness
(α= .88), time alteration (α= .89), physiological reactions
(α= .81). Additionally, the subscales of the AWE-S can be
summed and all 30 prompts can be scored together (30
items; α= .93).
Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three
recollection writing task conditions: the interpersonal
awe task, the awe in nature task, or the general positivity
task. Participants then completed the AWE-S. For the
quantitative component of the study, contrasts between
the conditions were planned to test for dierences
between conditions in AWE-S scores for the total scale,
as well as each of the six subscales.
Quantitative results
A three-way analysis of variance revealed signicant dif-
ferences in overall awe (the total of the AWE-S) between
all three conditions. Additionally, results from Levenes
test for homogeneity of variance were used to determine
whether to report interger or non-interger df when
reporting results. Participants reported feeling signi-
cantly more awe in the nature condition (M= 4.90,
SD = 0.90) than the interpersonal condition (M=4.40,
SD = 1.00) or general positivity condition (M=4.06,
SD =1.22),F(1, 633) = 34.398, p=.000,n
dierences in mean score for the overall AWE-S scale, as
well subscales, are illustrated in Figure 1. T-tests revealed
that participants reported feeling signicantly more awe
in the awe in nature condition (M= 4.90, SD = .90) than
the general positivity condition (M=4.06,SD = 1.22), t
(399.896) = 8.096, p= .002. Participants reported signi-
cantly more awe in the interpersonal awe condition
(M=4.40,SD = 1.00) than the general positivity condition
(M=4.06,SD = 1.22), t(412.834) = 3.166, p=.002.
Participants reported signicantly more awe in the awe
in nature condition (M= 4.90, SD = 0.90) than the inter-
personal awe condition (M=4.40,SD =1.00),t
(407.018) = 5.277, p= .000.
Planned contrasts revealed signicant dierences in all
of the other AWE-S sub-scales were reported between all
three conditions (Figure 1). The only exceptions were the
connectedness subscale where a three-way analysis of
variance revealed marginally signicant dierences
between all three conditions, F(1, 633) = 2.990, p=.051,
= .00. Furthermore, for the connectedness subscale,
dierences were not found between the interpersonal
awe and general positivity conditions, t(419.709) = .284,
p= .776. Lastly, for the time subscale, dierences between
the interpersonal awe (M= 4.38, SD = 1.41) and general
positivity (M=4.29,SD = 1.55) conditions were not found
to be signicant, t(633) = .694, p= .488. For details on
these planned contrasts, supplemental materials have
been hosted via Open Science Framework (OSF) at the
following link:
Discussion of quantitative results
The results of quantitative analysis revealed that the
quality of awe experience elicited by close others
(referred to as interpersonal awe) is distinct from
the quality of awe elicited by nature or general posi-
tivity in terms of overall awe (totaled AWE-S score). It
should be noted that interpersonal awe tends to t
between general positivity and awe from nature. This
suggests either that interpersonal awe is distinct form
of awe triggered by nature, or that awe is
a continuum and dierent triggers result in dierent
average intensities and qualities of awe (which seems
to align with the original framework proposed by
Keltner & Haidt, 2003).
The results of the planned contrasts help to make
sense of this dierence, suggesting rst that the awe
elicited by close others does, in fact, include both of the
necessary conditions of awe: vastness and accommoda-
tion. This indicates that those participants asked to write
about awe elicited by a close loved one, were indeed
feeling awe. Furthermore, the interpersonal type of awe
also elicits a greater degree of self-diminishment, and
increased likelihood of physiological eects (both of
which are other aspects of awe experience) than general
positivity. However, the interpersonal awe elicitor did
not seem to aect ones perception of time or sense of
connectedness (in the broad sense; see footnote 1) any
dierently than general positivity, whereas, awe elicited
by nature does have eects on these domains.
Study 1b qualitative analyses
In order to further explore the dierences between the
quality of awe elicited by nature and the quality of awe by
close interpersonal relationships, it was important to
explore the thematic aspects of these experiences. To
do this, a qualitative analysis was conducted which
looked further into the dierent themes between awe in
nature and interpersonal awe, making use of the content
of the excerpts written by participants. To the authors
knowledge, this is the rst study to attempt to empirically
evaluate the avors of awe outlined by Keltner and Haidt
(2003) in their landmark work, which serve as the founda-
tion for the qualitative coding frame used in this study.
The participants (N= 636) in the quantitative study
described above were asked to write about their awe
experiences as a way to prompt recollection of the target
emotional experience. This written data was then ana-
lyzed using qualitative methods.
Qualitative coding frame
Three independent coders used a coding frame devel-
oped for the purposes of this study to aid in qualitative
data analysis of the recollection task excerpts. This cod-
ing frame was based on the conceptual analysis of awe
conducted by Keltner and Haidt (2003) (see Appendix
Afor a visual representation of this conceptual analysis).
The coding frame developed for this study sought to
focus on the avors of awe proposed by Keltner and
Haidt (see Appendix B for the coding frame used in this
study). The descriptors in this coding framework aided
three independent members of the coding team (which
did not include the authors) in their coding of the qua-
litative excerpts.
Figure 1. Dierences in AWE-S overall scale scores and subscale scores for each of the three emotion induction tasks. Dotted lines
indicated ANOVA results, solid lines indicate results of planned contrast t-tests. A single asterisk denotes dierences found to be
statistically signicant at the .05 level, a double asterisk at the .01 level and a triple asterisk at the .001 level.
Independent coders were supplied with the written
excerpts in a randomized order and then asked to eval-
uate the degree to which these excerpts were indicative
of a given avor of awe (according to a coding frame
which can be seen in Appendix B). The coders received
only the excerpts and the coding frame, and were other-
wise kept blind to the details of the study. The excerpts
written by participants were manually coded by the
three independent coders. In order to evaluate how
the avors(or themes) of awe mapped onto each con-
dition (Interpersonal Awe, Awe in Nature, or General
Positivity), the coders evaluated each excerpt and either
assigned to it, one of the ve avors (ability, beauty,
threat, virtue/strength of character, or supernatural caus-
ality) or left the excerpt without a code if none of the
avors were captured by a given excerpt. Coders were
kept blind to the condition and prompt that the partici-
pantsexcerpts were responses too. Coders were also
kept blind to each othersresponses. After their codes
were applied, Interrater Reliability (IRR) was obtained by
calculating the percent agreement among multiple
coders. This was achieved by dividing all of the instances
where two or more coders agreed (i.e. coded the same
response) over the total number of possible instances.
The coders evaluations of the excerpts were found to be
highly reliable with percent agreement of 90.72%.
Awe in nature
Of the 213 excerpts in this condition, 61.2% were coded
as Beauty, followed by 8.5% coded as Threat, 3.3%
coded as Ability, 2.8% coded as Supernatural
Causality, and 0.5% coded as Virtue or Excellence of
Character. In this condition, 10.3% of excerpts were
left blank (i.e. coded as no avor), and for 12.7% of
excerpts coders could not agree. This distribution is
illustrated in Figure 2.
Qualitative analysis revealed that the code for the
Beauty avor of awe was used most in the Awe in
Nature Condition (132 excerpts), which corroborates
the predominance of words that suggest aesthetic plea-
sure in the Awe in Nature condition, which did not
appear in the Interpersonal Awe or General Positivity
conditions. For example:
I saw the super moon at the end of January. I never
noticed one before so seeing how big and close it
looked was astonishing. (116)
This quality is described again here, even from an indir-
ect experience with nature:
I saw pictures from the hubble telescope and was
amazed. I had no idea so many galaxies and space
could be so vast and beautiful. I was inspired. (341)
Figure 2. Number of excerpts in each condition coded for the avors of awe.
Interpersonal awe
Of the 204 excerpts in this condition, 35.8% were coded
as Virtue or Excellence of Character, followed by 11.8%
coded as Ability, 10.8% coded as Beauty, 2.9% coded as
Threat, and 1.5% coded as Supernatural Causality. In this
condition, 26.0% of excerpts were left blank (i.e. coded
as no avor), and for 11.3% of excerpts coders could not
agree (revisit Figure 2).
Qualitative analysis revealed that code for the Virtue
or Excellence of Character avor of awe was used most in
the Interpersonal Awe (73 excerpts). In the interpersonal
awe condition, the excerpts involved a sense of inspira-
tion, amazement or astonishment toward loved ones.
For instance:
I felt a sense of awe, among other emotions, when I saw
and heard my wife react to the diagnosis and prognosis
she was given recently by the oncologist at the hospital.
She was basically told, in so many words, that she was
going to die, how long it might take, and what they
could do to help limit her suering. Her comment was,
It is what it is. Thank you for all your help.She reacted
stronger than I did. (32)
Most unique to this condition and avor combination of
awe experience was that participantsviews of their
loved ones were changed by the experience. One parti-
cipant recalls:
A few weeks ago my mother came to visit us and we
were out to dinner. we were discussing our past relation-
ships and my mother went into detail about her past
and what she had gone through. Thing that i frankly
couldnt have imagined. She told it with such grace and
humility that it honestly surprised me and i respect her
for doing it. It felt like a woman I didnt know at all, but
felt good in that it was a stronger version rather than
weaker. (617)
General positivity
Of the 219 excerpts in this condition, 11.0% were coded
as Ability, followed by 10.5% coded as Beauty, 5.5%
coded as Virtue or Excellence of Character, 0.5% coded
as Threat, and 0.5% coded as Supernatural Causality. In
this condition 68.0% of excerpts were left blank (i.e.
coded as no avor), and for 4.1% of excerpts coders
could not agree (revisit Figure 2). Besides the excerpts
from this condition that were coded as No Flavor, the
remaining responses were likely to be coded as Ability
(24 excerpts) or beauty (23 excerpts).
Excerpts that were coded as expressing the Ability
Flavor in the General Positivity Condition were more
likely to be directed at a participantsown behavior.
There was a strong connection between participants
behavior and other positive emotions, such as accom-
plishment, pride, and happiness. For instance:
I won a trophy for being the best in my class. I was so
happy because I felt like my hard work paid o. (406)
Even in excerpts that involved the ability of other people,
there was a sense of accomplishment and pride. More
importantly, the excerpts from the General Positivity
condition regarding the ability of others lacked the qual-
ity of astonishment and amazement that was present in
the Interpersonal awe condition.
Discussion of qualitative study
The qualitative ndings were able to identify which
avorof awe participants were more likely to feel
when writing about their experiences. The excerpts
from the Interpersonal Awe condition (where awe was
elicited by writing about a close other) were coded most
for the Virtue or Excellence of Character Flavor of Awe
(i.e. an awe experience tinged with warm and pleasant
feelings of elevation; see Figure 2). The excerpts demon-
strate that interactions in close relationships can take on
a sense of gurative vastness in the face of magnani-
mous virtue or imposing excellence that rise to an awe
The qualitative results further elucidated the nuances
of the interpersonal type of awe elicitor. The excerpts
that were coded most for the Ability avor of awe (i.e.
awe experience that includes admiration at witnessing
great talent or skill) came from the Interpersonal Awe
condition (see Figure 2). When it came to Awe in Nature,
these ndings showed that excerpts were coded most
often as exhibiting the Beauty avor of Awe, which refers
to awe experiences that involve aesthetically pleasing
feelings (Keltner & Haidt, 2003) (see Appendix B).
Overall discussion
Across these two studies, ndings suggest that the
quality of awe elicited in the Interpersonal Awe condi-
tion was distinct from both general positivity and the
quality of awe elicited by nature. Overall, these ndings
suggest that there is a phenomenological experience
of awe, elicited by close loved ones, that meet the
widely accepted preconditions of awe experience,
namely vastness and a need for accommodation. The
vastness is relative and gurative, that is, it is a vastness
experienced by the subject in terms of their relation-
ship and the accommodation that occurs likely entails
their schemas of a close loved one. Additionally, this
experience of awe elicited by close others is similar to
awe elicited by nature in that it involves self-
diminishment and physiological eects, though with
a lesser degree of intensity. Finally, interpersonal awe
experiences tend not to alter perceptions of time or
increase feelings of connectedness any more than gen-
eral positivity.
The results of this study corroborate much of the past
research on awe, which has found that nature is
a powerful elicitor of awe (Chirico et al., 2017; Joye &
Bolderdijk, 2015; Rudd et al., 2012; Silvia et al., 2015;
Valdesolo & Graham, 2014; Van Cappellen & Saroglou,
2012). Participants scores were highest for overall awe,
as well as every single subscale on the AWE-S when
responding to the awe in nature task (see Figure 1). In
fact, given that scores were found to be signicantly
higher on each of these dimensions for the awe in nature
condition, it is likely that stimuli involving nature have
the ability to elicit awe to a greater degree of intensity
than social elicitors.
Limitations and directions for future research
Data were collected online using Amazon Mechanical
Turk (M-Turk). This method of data collection is not
without limitations and participants have been
known to rush through tasks or participants might
take surveys multiple times with dierent user names
(Johnson & Borden, 2012). M-Turk tries to minimize
these infractions through user limitations, and, in this
case, the survey contained attention checks.
Nevertheless, in this study, 257 participants still had
to be removed for various reasons, such as failing the
attention checks and for failing to submit a complete
One of the biggest limitations of the current study
is that it only asked participants to complete the
AWE-S and did not take any outcome measures.
Therefore, while interpersonal awe has been estab-
lished as distinct experience from that of Awe elicited
by nature or general positivity, the degree to which
this experience is related to other outcomes typical of
awe such as well-being (Rudd et al., 2015) and pro-
social behavior (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015;Piet al.,
2015; Rudd et al., 2015) are viable directions for
future research.
Finally, recall that the experience of interpersonal
awe seems to be driven by a virtue or moral compo-
nent, as evidenced by the qualitative results (revisit
Figure 2). These data suggest that the emotion eleva-
tion may be closely related to (or even synonymous
with) interpersonal awe due to the overwhelming
endorsement of the moral component. Future research
might dig deeper into the comparisons between the
social domain of awe and its relationship with the
emotion of elevation.
This study explored the social domain of awe elicitors
by looking into aspects of the quality of awe experi-
ence elicited by close others (or interpersonal awe).
A quantitative study demonstrated that interpersonal
awe is a unique quality of awe experience that is less
intense than awe elicited by nature but distinct from
general positivity. Interpersonal awe shares the quali-
ties of Vastness, Accommodation, Self-Diminishment
and Physiological Eects with awe elicited by Nature,
but lacks the qualities of connectedness (i.e. a general
sense of feeling connected with nature or the uni-
verse) and altered time perception often attributed
to awe experience elicited by Nature. This was the
rst quantitative study to distinguish the quality of
awe experience elicited by a loved one or close
other (i.e. interpersonal awe). A qualitative study
helped to further distinguish interpersonal awe from
awe elicited by nature or general positivity. Awe that
was elicited by nature was dominated by the avors
of beauty and threat, while the interpersonal type of
awe was dominated by virtue/excellence of character,
which again indicates that it may be related to experi-
ence of elevation. These ndings illuminate the
degree to which awe can be elicited socially, even in
contexts close to home by those closest to us. This is
a crucial step in beginning to explore how to leverage
ordinary conditions as gateways into awe experience.
Perhaps awe, while an ordinary response to the extra-
ordinary, is also an extraordinary response to the
1. It is important to note that in terms of the AWE-S (Yaden
et al., 2018), the connectedness subscale is measuring
abroad sense of connectedness. In the context of the
paper, it may be confusing and one may get the sense
that connectedness refers to an intimate sense of con-
nectedness in close interpersonal relationships this is
not the case. Connectedness is taken to mean a sense of
relationship to the universe as a whole, often thought of
as oneness.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Marianna Graziosi
David Yaden
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Appendix A.
Re-creation of Keltner and Haidt (2003) prototype approach: Social elicitors*
Appendix B.
Qualitative coding frame
Flavorsof the Awe Experience
This avor of awe describes experiences that include feelings of fear in response to threat or danger.
–‘As discussed by Burke, threat and danger cause an experience of awe to be avored by feelings of fear. Variation in whether an
entity is threatening or not might account for how charismatic leaders (e.g. Hitler vs. Gandhi) or natural scenes (e.g. an electrical
storm vs. a sunset) evoke awe- related experiences of dramatically dierent valence.(Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 304).
Aesthetically pleasing feelings that accompany an experience of awe in response to beautiful people, nature, art, etc.
–‘Beautiful people and scenes can produce awe-related experiences that are avored with aesthetic pleasure. We cannot give
here an account of what makes something beautiful, although we think it likely that there will be at least two sources of
intuitions about beauty, one stemming from ``biophilia’’ [love of nature] (Wilson, 1984), and the other from the evolution of
sexual desire and attraction (Buss, 1994).(Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 304)
Virtue/Strength of Character
Feelings of elevation that accompany an awe experience in response to witnessing great acts of virtue or strength of character in
other people.
–‘People who display virtues or strength of character often trigger in other people a state that has been called ``elevation’’ (Haidt,
2000). Elevation is an emotional response to ``moral beauty’’ or human goodness; it usually includes a warm and pleasant
feeling in the chest and a desire to become a better person, or to lead a better life. Elevation appears to be a member of the
family of awe-related states, but because experiences of elevation do not usually involve perceived vastness or power, they
should be labelled as ``elevation’’, not awe(Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 305).
Feelings of admiration that accompany an awe experience in response to witnessing exceptional ability, talent or skill.
–‘Perceptions of exceptional ability, talent, and skill will avor an experience with admiration in which the perceiver feels respect
for the other person that is not based on dominance and submission within a hierarchy. Exceptional ability may often trigger
a need for accommodation, but if there is no perception of vastness, then the experience should simply be labelled ``admira-
tion’’, not awe(Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 305).
Supernatural Causality
An awe experience accompanied the uncanny feeling that God or a supernatural entity is manifesting itself.
–‘The perception that God or some other supernatural entity is manifesting itself (e.g. seeing an angel or a ghost, or seeing an
object levitate) will avor an experience with an element of the uncanny. The uncanny is usually terrifying (Angyal, 1941), but it
can be glorious if the entity is perceived as benevolent(Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 306).
Eliciting Situations Vastness Accommodation Threat Beauty Ability Virtue Supernatural Causality
Prototype: Powerful Leader XX?
Encounter with God X?? XX
Great Skill (Admiration) XX X
Great Virtue (Elevation) XX
XDenotes the appraisal usually made in response to the elicitor
? Denotes the response to the elicitor that might be made, which would add the given avorto the awe experience
*Visit Keltner and Haidt (2003) landmark article for a full framework, which also includes physical and cognitive elicitors.
... Since the AWE-S is measured after participants recall and describe (i.e., write) their awe experiences (Yaden et al., 2019), their contents may have a role manifesting the responses to the AWE-S. Studies revealed that ratings on the AWE-S varied based on the elicitors of awe experiences (Graziosi & Yaden, 2021;Yaden et al., 2019). However, the aspects of narrated experience (i.e., the "potential topics") associated with each factor of the AWE-S have not been investigated beyond the typology of awe experience. ...
... These results were consistent with the characteristics of each factor of the original AWE-S (Yaden et al., 2019). Previous studies also demonstrated that the elicitors of awe experiences had different roles in manifesting responses to the AWE-S (Graziosi & Yaden, 2021;Yaden et al., 2019). Therefore, beyond the typology, this was the first study to reveal that the various psychological elements of awe emerged differently based on the potential topics of the narratives. ...
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Background: Awe, a complex emotion, arises in response to perceptually and conceptually vast stimuli that transcend one’s current frames of reference, which is associated with subjective psychological phenomena, such as a sense of self and consciousness. This study aimed to develop a Japanese version of the Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S), a widely used questionnaire that robustly measured the state of awe, and simultaneously investigated how the multiple facets of awe related to the narrative representations of awe experiences. Methods: The Japanese AWE-S was created via back-translation and its factor structure and validity was investigated through an online survey in Japan. Results: The results revealed that the Japanese AWE-S consisted of the same six factors as the original (i.e., time, self-loss, connectedness, vastness, physiological, and accommodation) and had sufficient internal consistency, test-retest reliability, construct validity, and also Japan-specific characteristics. The structured topic modeling generated seven potential topics of the descriptions of awe experiences, which were differently associated with each factor of the Japanese AWE-S. Conclusions: Our findings contribute to a deeper understanding of awe and reveal the constructs of awe in Japan through cross-cultural comparisons. Furthermore, this study provides conceptual and methodological implications regarding studies on awe.
... From the perspective of Graziosi and Yaden (2019), a different viewpoint has emerged regarding the effects of awe among individuals. Specifically, awe has been highlighted as an emotion that enhances positive mood and serves as a buffer against negative feelings (Lopes et al., 2020). ...
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Purpose of the study: The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the experience of awe and cooperative behavior, with a particular focus on the mediating role of the small-self concept. Theoretical framework: Drawing on social-psychological and emotion theories, this study proposed an integrative model that includes two key variables: the experience of awe, elicited by various stimuli, and the small-self concept. It hypothesized that individuals who experience awe would exhibit increased cooperative behavior and that the small-self concept would mediate this relationship. Method: Across three studies, diverse methodologies and measures were employed, including Common-Pool Resource Dilemmas and Public Goods Games, to assess levels of cooperation. The Awe Scale and Perceived Self-Size Scale were also utilized to measure awe and the small-self concept, respectively. In total, 320 participants were engaged in the study, being assigned to different experimental and control conditions. Results and conclusion: The results consistently demonstrated that the experience of awe led to an increased willingness to cooperate across all studies. It was also discovered that the small-self concept played a complete mediating role in the relationship between the experience of awe and cooperative behavior, confirming the hypotheses. These findings remained robust even when different awe-inducing stimuli were employed, such as pictures of nature, images of architecture, or videos of an infant. Search implications: Our findings underscore the importance of the awe experience as a potential driver of cooperative behavior. The results contribute to a better understanding of the emotional and cognitive processes underlying cooperation, suggesting that fostering awe experiences in individuals may be a promising avenue for promoting cooperative behavior. Future research should explore the practical applications of our findings in fields such as conflict resolution, environmental conservation, and social cooperation. Originality value: This research uniquely contributes to the literature by integrating the concept of awe and small-self within the context of cooperative behavior. It adds to the existing body of knowledge by providing a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that influence cooperative behavior. This study presents a novel approach by examining the mediating role of the small-self concept, offering new insights into how awe experiences can impact cooperation.
... The need for accommodation refers to a need to revise existing mental schemas to make sense of external stimuli. Awe can be induced by a wide range of stimuli, such as large entities (Shiota et al., 2007), nature Gordon et al., 2017), influential leaders (Graziosi & Yaden, 2021), or a volume of unexpected information. The diverse awe-inducing stimuli give rise to different 'flavors' of awe (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). ...
... Interpersonal inspired awe had cognitive qualities of vastness, accommodation, self-diminishment, and physiological effects but less so than that of nature inspired awe. Furthermore, interpersonal inspired awe did not evoke altered time perception but was dominated by aspects of virtue or excellence of another's character, whereas nature inspired awe contributed to a higher alteration of time perception, and themes of beauty and threat (Graziosi & Yaden, 2019). Interestingly, van Elk and Rotteveel (2020) found lab-induced awe may alter the cognitive process of time perception but not consistently. ...
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Awe is considered a transformational and multifaceted emotion. Vastness is the core cognitive appraisal associated with awe, which activates a need for cognitive accommodation. Increasingly, studies are evaluating awe’s dimensions including triggers, cognitive and emotional characteristics, and primarily beneficial outcomes. Additionally, numerous emotions have been conceptualised within a cognitive behavioural framework and cognitive behavioural models may be utilised to promote positive human qualities and experiences. Therefore, this paper outlines the results of a systematic review of the literature on awe from a cognitive behavioural perspective to propose a cognitive behavioural model. Databases searched included Psych Net, Science Direct, Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed, ProQuest, EBSCO, SAGE, JSTOR, Springer LINK, Taylor and Francis, and Wiley with the inclusion of peer reviewed articles. A total of 57 studies were identified. Triggers of awe were primarily related to nature and cognitive processes centred on vastness and the need for accommodation. A range of outcomes associated with awe were identified including increased well-being, spiritual growth, and pro-environmental intent. The key findings from this review informed a cognitive behavioural model of awe. Such a cognitive behavioural model may inform the cultivation of awe for individual, community, or environmental well-being and experience design. Future research is required to validate the proposed model, proposed pathways, and utility.
... These key assets could be particularly valuable for the design of complex experiences and for the study of their effects on human wellbeing and health in the short, medium and long term, and both at the individual and at the social level. This last is quite underrepresented within the domain of awe, with few seminal exceptions in which collective elicitors of awe have been considered (e.g., Goldy et al., 2022;Graziosi & Yaden, 2021). ...
... Awe has been associated with resilience (for example, see Tabibnia, 2020) as well as being a mindfulness practice (D'Ardenne, 2019; Thompson, 2022a). There are various contexts in which awe can be experienced: in nature and space, through music and the arts, with accomplishments (self and others), in religious and spiritual moments, and in social interactions (Allen, 2019;Anderson et al., 2018;Graziosi & Yaden, 2019;Pilgrim et al., 2017;Shiota et al., 2007;Thompson, 2022a). Furthermore, awe is not restricted to in-person experiences, as studies have shown that the following can be used to elicit this complex emotion: virtual and augmented reality, photos, viewing images and videos, listening, and reading (Fessell & Reivich, 2021;Magnan, 2020;Shiota & Greater Good Science Center, 2016;Thompson, 2022a;Walker & Gilovich, 2021). ...
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Research has shown that experiencing awe can support people’s well-being and enhance their resilience. A secondary phenomenological analysis was conducted of data collected from the Awe Project, a 5-day, online resilience program. Based on the existing literature, which demonstrates that reflecting on positive memories can support individuals’ well-being, a practice during the Awe Project prompted participants first to define awe and then to share a personal awe experience. The results indicated that many of the participants’ awe definitions and narratives were consistent with themes relating to previous awe research while new awe-related themes also emerged. Additionally, many of the awe definitions and stories included elements relating to resilience practices such as cognitive reappraisal, connectedness, gratitude, meaning and purpose in life, mindfulness, and self-efficacy. The results indicated that explaining awe and sharing awe narratives can potentially support people’s well-being, and that being exposed to awe narratives may support this as well.
In the psychology of aesthetics, compared with appreciation, there are fewer studies on art creation. This study aims to examine the influence of art creation on appreciation using haiku poetry with reference to the Mirror Model—a process model combining creation and appreciation. Although the model has been primarily used to examine visual arts, we examine its applicability to linguistic arts. In addition, we use ink painting to examine whether a generalisation across artistic genres can occur. The 115 participants were divided into two conditions—creation and control. The former created haiku before and after appreciation, while the latter did not create any haiku. The results showed no improvement in evaluation through creation. Additionally, recognising the difficulty related to creation leads to aesthetic evaluation, and this relationship is mediated by awe. These results expand the existing information regarding the Mirror Model in terms of the different art genres.
This narrative review aims to contribute to the scientific literature on awe by reviewing seven perspectives on the evolutionary function of awe. Each is presented with accompanying empirical evidence and suggestions for research investigating unanswered questions. Based on the existing perspectives, this review proposes an integrated evolutionary model of awe, postulating the evolutionary selection of awe through three adaptive domains: (1) social cooperation, (2) reflective processing, and (3) signaling suitability as a potential mate.
Stress among adolescents is a growing concern due to its adverse effects on health and social functioning, especially in China. Awe is related to relief of daily stress and reduction of stress-related symptoms. However, existing research related to perceived stress in Chinese adolescents has not considered awe; moreover, the possible influence of perceived stress on the tendency to feel awe is poorly understood. This study used two-wave cross-lagged analysis to explore the relationship between awe and perceived stress among Chinese adolescents. Three hundred and fifty Chinese middle school students aged 13 to 16 completed the Dispositional Awe Scale and Perceived Stress Scale questionnaires twice, with 3 months between responses. Results show that awe predicts lower levels of perceived stress over time, and perceived stress predicts lower levels of awe, supporting the idea of a reciprocal relationship between the two. This suggests potential practical interventions for stress management in Chinese adolescents.
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Awe is a complex emotion composed of an appraisal of vastness and a need for accommodation. The purpose of this study was to develop a robust state measure of awe, the Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S), based on the extant experimental literature. In study 1, participants (N = 501) wrote about an intense moment of awe that they had experienced and then completed a survey about their experience. Exploratory factor analysis revealed a 6-factor structure, including: altered time perception (F1); self-diminishment (F2); connectedness (F3); perceived vastness (F4); physical sensations (F5); need for accommodation (F6). Internal consistency was strong for each factor (α ≥ .80). Study 2 confirmed the 6-factor structure (N = 636) using fit indices (CFI = .905; RMSEA = .054). Each factor of the AWES is significantly correlated with the awe items of the modified Differential Emotions Scale (mDES) and Dispositional Positive Emotion Scale (D-PES). Triggers, valence, and themes associated with awe experiences are reported.
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Humility is a foundational virtue that counters selfish inclinations such as entitlement, arrogance, and narcissism (Tangney, 2000). We hypothesize that experiences of awe promote greater humility. Guided by an appraisal-tendency framework of emotion, we propose that when individuals encounter an entity that is vast and challenges their worldview, they feel awe, which leads to self-diminishment and subsequently humility. In support of these claims, awe-prone individuals were rated as more humble by friends (Study 1) and reported greater humility across a 2-week period (Study 2), controlling for other positive emotions. Inducing awe led participants to present a more balanced view of their strengths and weaknesses to others (Study 3) and acknowledge, to a greater degree, the contribution of outside forces in their own personal accomplishments (Study 4), compared with neutral and positive control conditions. Finally, an awe-inducing expansive view elicited greater reported humility than a neutral view (Study 5). We also elucidated the process by which awe leads to humility. Feelings of awe mediated the relationship between appraisals (perceptions of vastness and a challenge to one's world view) and humility (Study 4), and self-diminishment mediated the relationship between awe and humility (Study 5). Taken together, these results reveal that awe offers one path to greater humility. (PsycINFO Database Record
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Awe has been theorized as a collective emotion, one that enables individuals to integrate into social collectives. In keeping with this theorizing, we propose that awe diminishes the sense of self and shifts attention away from individual interests and concerns. In testing this hypothesis across 6 studies (N = 2137), we first validate pictorial and verbal measures of the small self; we then document that daily, in vivo, and lab experiences of awe, but not other positive emotions, diminish the sense of the self. These findings were observed across collectivist and individualistic cultures, but also varied across cultures in magnitude and content. Evidence from the last 2 studies showed that the influence of awe upon the small self accounted for increases in collective engagement, fitting with claims that awe promotes integration into social groups. Discussion focused on how the small self might mediate the effects of awe on collective cognition and behavior, the need to study more negatively valenced varieties of awe, and other potential cultural variations of the small self.
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Various forms of self-loss have been described as aspects of mental illness (e.g., depersonalization disorder), but might self-loss also be related to mental health? In this integrative review and proposed organizational framework, we focus on self-transcendent experiences (STEs)—transient mental states marked by decreased self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness. We first identify common psychological constructs that contain a self-transcendent aspect, including mindfulness, flow, peak experiences, mystical-type experiences, and certain positive emotions (e.g., love, awe). We then propose psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that may mediate the effects of STEs based on a review of the extant literature from social psychology, clinical psychology, and affective neuroscience. We conclude with future directions for further empirical research on these experiences.
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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.
The power of nature to both heal and inspire awe has been noted by many great thinkers. However, no study has examined how the impact of nature on well-being and stress-related symptoms is explained by experiences of awe. In the present investigation, we examine this process in studies of extraordinary and everyday nature experiences. In Study 1, awe experienced by military veterans and youth from underserved communities while whitewater rafting, above and beyond all the other positive emotions measured, predicted changes in well-being and stress-related symptoms one week later. In Study 2, the nature experiences that undergraduate students had during their everyday lives led to more awe, which mediated the effect of nature experience on improvements in well-being. We discuss how accounting for people’s emotional experiences during outdoors activities can increase our understanding of how nature impacts people’s well-being.
Although the positive emotion of awe is of growing interest, past research has not directly examined its buffering effect in negative circumstances. As awe has been theoretically linked to experiences of vastness and spirituality, the present study proposes that awe helps individuals alleviate their negative affect, in the context of possession loss. Study 1 manipulated awe and examined participants’ responses in an imagined situation in which they lost a cherished possession. Study 2 manipulated awe and happiness and compared their effects on participants’ response to an actual loss in the form of points obtained and deducted during a laboratory task. In Study 3, daily experiences of awe, other positive emotions, and affect in response to actual loss, were measured using event sampling. In all studies, awe predicted lower negative affect towards loss of possessions. Implications of the function of awe in coping with loss and other future directions are discussed.
Posted 3/2000. The previously unstudied emotion of elevation is described. Elevation appears to be the opposite of social disgust. It is triggered by witnessing acts of human moral beauty or virtue. Elevation involves a warm or glowing feeling in the chest, and it makes people want to become morally better themselves. Because elevation increases one's desire to affiliate with and help others, it provides a clear illustration of B. L. Fredrickson's (see record 2000-03082-001) broaden-and-build model of the positive emotions.
Spiritual experiences are profound moments of personal transcendence, connection, and wonder. Five studies (total N = 1064) investigate how spiritual experiences induce feelings of awe, in both religious and non-religious people, through a sense of small self. Recalling spiritual experiences increased feelings of Awe (Studies 1–5), Small Self (Studies 2, 4, & 5), and Spiritual Humility (Studies 3 & 4), but did not impact Intellectual Humility (Studies 3 & 4). We thus note a paradox – spirituality promotes humility toward the divine, but not humility about one's beliefs. Moreover, the effect of spiritual experiences on Awe was mediated by feelings of Small Self (Studies 2, 4 & 5) and Spirituality Humility (Studies 3 & 4). The effects of spiritual experiences on Awe and Small Self were found in both religious and non-religious individuals, but religious people recalled more explicit religious events and life and death events as sources of spirituality, whereas non-religious people were more likely to report experiences in nature, peak experiences, science, and yoga/ meditation as spiritual experiences. Though religious and non-religious people may generate different types of spiritual experiences, we conclude that spirituality induces awe through the feelings of small self that are shared by religious and non-religious individuals, and this may help us to understand the meaning of spirituality without religion.