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Interpersonal awe: Exploring the social domain of
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:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1689422
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 deﬁned by themes of beauty, while inter-
personal awe was deﬁned by themes of virtue or excellence of character.
Received 7 September 2019
Accepted 8 October 2019
Awe; awe experience;
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
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 ﬁrst 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 ﬁguratively 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-blowing’and
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
deﬁnitional 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
‘awe’in 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;Piﬀ, Dietze,
Feinberg, Stancato, & Keltner, 2015; Preston & Shin,
2016; Stellar et al., 2018). More importantly, this small
sense of self was found to be signiﬁcantly 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 participants’increased well-being scores
and decreased stress responses at a one-week follow-
up. Other work has found that awe-induction led to
positive eﬀects on mood (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015)as
well as serving as a buﬀer against negative mood (Koh,
CONTACT Marianna Graziosi firstname.lastname@example.org
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
© 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;Piﬀet 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 ‘ﬂavors’of 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 one’s child struggle for months to stand, they
ﬁnally take their ﬁrst 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 ﬁrst
uses a mixed-method approach to determine if there are
diﬀerences 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 diﬀerences
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
ﬁrst author’s 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 ﬁn-
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% identiﬁed as male and 48.9% identi-
ﬁed as female. 73% identiﬁed as Non-Hispanic white,
8.5% identiﬁed as Black or African American, 9.9% iden-
tiﬁed as Asian or Asian American, 0.2% identiﬁed as
American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.7% identiﬁed as
LatinX and 5.3% identiﬁed as Mixed Race or Biracial.
Recollection task prompts. The three emotion condi-
tions that represented the diﬀerent 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 you’d 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 you’dlike.
2M. GRAZIOSI AND D. YADEN
The prompt used for the general positivity condi-
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
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 ‘awe’in 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 diﬀerences
between conditions in AWE-S scores for the total scale,
as well as each of the six subscales.
A three-way analysis of variance revealed signiﬁcant dif-
ferences in overall awe (the total of the AWE-S) between
all three conditions. Additionally, results from Levene’s
test for homogeneity of variance were used to determine
whether to report interger or non-interger df when
reporting results. Participants reported feeling signiﬁ-
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
diﬀerences in mean score for the overall AWE-S scale, as
well subscales, are illustrated in Figure 1. T-tests revealed
that participants reported feeling signiﬁcantly 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 signiﬁ-
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 signiﬁcantly 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 signiﬁcant diﬀerences 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 signiﬁcant diﬀerences
between all three conditions, F(1, 633) = 2.990, p=.051,
= .00. Furthermore, for the connectedness subscale,
diﬀerences were not found between the interpersonal
awe and general positivity conditions, t(419.709) = .284,
p= .776. Lastly, for the time subscale, diﬀerences 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 signiﬁcant, 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: https://osf.io/wcvd9/?view_only=
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 ﬁt
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 diﬀerent triggers result in diﬀerent
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 diﬀerence, suggesting ﬁrst 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
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 3
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 eﬀects (both of
which are other aspects of awe experience) than general
positivity. However, the interpersonal awe elicitor did
not seem to aﬀect one’s perception of time or sense of
connectedness (in the broad sense; see footnote 1) any
diﬀerently than general positivity, whereas, awe elicited
by nature does have eﬀects on these domains.
Study 1b –qualitative analyses
In order to further explore the diﬀerences 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 diﬀerent 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 ﬁrst study to attempt to empirically
evaluate the ﬂavors 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 ﬂavors 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-
Figure 1. Diﬀerences 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 diﬀerences found to be
statistically signiﬁcant at the .05 level, a double asterisk at the .01 level and a triple asterisk at the .001 level.
4M. GRAZIOSI AND D. YADEN
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 ﬂavor 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 ‘ﬂavors’(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 ﬁve ﬂavors (ability, beauty,
threat, virtue/strength of character, or supernatural caus-
ality) or left the excerpt without a code if none of the
ﬂavors were captured by a given excerpt. Coders were
kept blind to the condition and prompt that the partici-
pants’excerpts were responses too. Coders were also
kept blind to each others’responses. 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 ﬂavor), 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 ﬂavor 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 ﬂavors of awe.
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 5
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 ﬂavor), 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 ﬂavor 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.
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 suﬀering. 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 ﬂavor combination of
awe experience was that participants’views of their
loved ones were changed by the experience. One parti-
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
couldn’t 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
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 ﬂavor), 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 participants’own 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 oﬀ. (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 ﬁndings were able to identify which
‘ﬂavor’of 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 ﬁgurative 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 ﬂavor 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 ﬁndings showed that excerpts were coded most
often as exhibiting the Beauty ﬂavor of Awe, which refers
to awe experiences that involve aesthetically pleasing
feelings (Keltner & Haidt, 2003) (see Appendix B).
Across these two studies, ﬁndings 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 ﬁndings
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 ﬁgurative, 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 eﬀects, though with
a lesser degree of intensity. Finally, interpersonal awe
6M. GRAZIOSI AND D. YADEN
experiences tend not to alter perceptions of time or
increase feelings of connectedness any more than gen-
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 signiﬁcantly
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 diﬀerent 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;Piﬀet al.,
2015; Rudd et al., 2015) are viable directions for
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 Eﬀects 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
ﬁrst 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 ﬂavors
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 ﬁndings 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
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
Marianna Graziosi http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4177-3304
David Yaden http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9604-6227
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8M. GRAZIOSI AND D. YADEN
Re-creation of Keltner and Haidt (2003) prototype approach: Social elicitors*
Qualitative coding frame
‘Flavors’of the Awe Experience
–This ﬂavor 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 ﬂavored 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 diﬀerent 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 ﬂavored 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
–‘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 ﬂavor 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).
–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 ﬂavor 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 ‘ﬂavor’to the awe experience
*Visit Keltner and Haidt (2003) landmark article for a full framework, which also includes physical and cognitive elicitors.
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