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In existing literature on awe, many research findings indicate the positive impact of awe on prosocial behavior. However, very few studies examined awe in organizational contexts, and researchers neglected to investigate the effect of awe introduced by workplace elicitors. In a between-subject experimental study (N = 264), we introduced awe elicited by work factors, and examined its effect on prosocial intention and behavior (as compared with neutral and pleasant emotion conditions). The results showed significant differences between prosocial intention and prosocial behavior in the three conditions. Importantly, awe evoked by workplace elicitors has a significant positive effect on prosocial behavior, and prosocial intention mediates this relationship. This study is among the first to examine the impact of awe introduced by workplace elicitors, which suggests that managers may create workplaces that inspire awe.
Awe in the workplace promotes prosocial behavior
Liang Meng
| Xu Wang
School of Business and Management, Shanghai
International Studies University, Shanghai, China
Institute of Organizational Behavior and
Organizational Neuroscience, Shanghai
International Studies University, Shanghai, China
Xu Wang, School of Business and Management,
Shanghai International Studies University,
550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China.
Funding information
National Natural Science Foundation of China,
Grant/Award Number: 71701131; Shanghai
Philosophy and Social Science Planning Project,
Grant/Award Number: 2021ZGL004
In the existing literature on awe, many research findings indicate the positive impact of
awe on prosocial behavior. However, very few studies have examined awe in organiza-
tional contexts, and researchers have neglected to investigate the effect of awe induced by
workplace elicitors. In a between-subject experimental study (N=264), we introduced
awe elicited by work factors, and examined its effect on prosocial intention and behavior
(as compared with the neutral emotion condition and pleasantness condition). The results
showed significant differences between prosocial intention and prosocial behavior in the
three conditions. Importantly, awe evoked by workplace elicitors has a significant positive
effect on prosocial behavior, and prosocial intention mediates this relationship. This study
is among the first to examine the impact of awe induced by workplace elicitors, the results
of which suggest that managers should consider creating workplaces that inspire awe.
awe, prosocial behavior, prosocial intention, workplace awe
According to the definition that is by far the most widely
adopted (Freidlin & Littman-Ovadia, 2020), prosocial behav-
ior refers to a wide range of behaviors performed to benefit one
or more individuals beyond oneself (Batson, 1998). Prosocial
behavior can be further divided into a number of types, such as
donation, helping, sharing, cooperation, and volunteering
(Guan et al., 2019). From the organizations perspective, man-
agers may want to encourage helping behavior among
employees because it could promote work meaningfulness per-
ception, team vitality, and job performance (Lin et al., 2020).
In contrast to this ideal situation, however, self-interested
behaviors often occur in the workplace, as employees are bur-
dened with the time pressure to complete their tasks and com-
pete with others (Hafenbrack et al., 2020). For managers,
finding out appropriate ways to motivate employees to perform
more helping behaviors requires a lot of management wisdom.
Although prosocial behavior is closely related to personality
traits, such as agreeableness (Hilbig et al., 2014), it can also be
shaped by organizational situational factors. In recent years,
there has been an emotional revolutionin organizational
behavior research, which calls for more attention to the impact
of emotions on employeesprosocial behaviors (Michie, 2009).
Awe, as a positive emotion overall (Stellar et al., 2017), is tradi-
tionally seen as a complex emotional response to visual vastness
that mixes varied components, including wonder, joy, fear, and
reverence (Chirico & Yaden, 2018). The typical elicitors of
awe mainly involve phenomena related to the natural environ-
ment, such as mountains, waterfalls, and parturition. Previous
studies have shown that when individuals are stimulated by
perceived vastness to generate a sense of awe, they tend to real-
ize their smallness, shift their attention from self-interest and
self-concern to an entity broader than themselves, and actively
seek to establish a positive connection with the external
environment (Bai et al., 2017;Perlin&Li,2020;Prade&
Saroglou, 2016)byperformingprosocialbehaviors.For
example, it was found that the greater the extent to which
individuals perceive awe, the more generous they would be
in donating money (Piff et al., 2015). In addition, people
et al., 2012) and are more willing to protect the environ-
ment (Zhao et al., 2018).
Many managerial practitioners are aware of the power of
awe and would like to create a sense of awe in the workplace.
The expectation is that employees would perceive awe in the
workplace and then care about the well-being of others and the
organization. It is no wonder that some companies try to build
huge natural landscapes in the workplace. For example, Face-
book has built a green roof of about 36,422 square meters and
an 800-meter walkway in its workplace. However, this does
not apply to all types of businesses because of the high cost
incurred and the huge space required. In fact, managerial prac-
titioners seem to ignore the fact that the organizational context
Received: 7 April 2022 Accepted: 2 August 2022
DOI: 10.1002/pchj.593
© 2022 Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.
PsyCh Journal. 2022;110. 1
itself can also be a source of awe. Keltner and Haidt (2003)
suggested that there are five potential triggers of awe, including
beauty, ability, virtue, supernatural causality, and threat. A
recent study first identified and compared triggers of workplace
awe in two cultural clusters (North American culture and Chi-
nese Confucian culture; Hu & Meng, 2022). It was found that
both organizations and colleagues are important sources of
employeesawe, both in Western and in Chinese organizations.
Specifically, organizations can arouse awe through their organi-
zational virtues, organizational outstanding abilities or achieve-
ments, and the beautiful design or landscape of the workplace.
Awe can also be inspired by colleaguesvirtues, dedication,
abilities and achievements, charisma, status, and power. This
pioneering and illuminating finding (Hu & Meng, 2022)
paved the way for researchers to examine the effect of work-
place awe on employeesvaried workplace behaviors.
It is worth noting that there are limited empirical studies
on the experience of awe in the work context. While many
organizational psychologists show strong interests in conduct-
ing empirical research on workplace awe, to our best knowl-
edge, till now there is only one study that explores how
employeesexperience of awe at work affects their perception
of work meaningfulness (Sheprow & Harrison, 2022). Specifi-
cally, given that the positive relationship between awe and pro-
social behavior is well established in non-work settings, it is
not known whether the relationship still holds true in the work
context and, if it does, how workplace awe contributes to the
occurrence of prosocial behavior. Therefore, this study aims to
extend existing research on awe by examining the effect of
workplace awe on prosocial behavior. Through an experiment
with a between-subject design, this study sets up three emo-
tional conditions (namely the condition of awe elicited by
organizational and colleague factors, the pleasantness condi-
tion, and the neutral emotion condition), and examines their
effects on prosocial intention and the actual prosocial behavior.
Affective events theory (AET) posits that ones cognitive pro-
cessing of work events will trigger affective responses, further
affecting ones attitudes and behaviors (Weiss &
Cropanzano, 1996). Based on AET, this study attempts to
establish the positive link between workplace awe and
employee prosocial behavior via prosocial intention, which is
instructive for those managers seeking to make good use of awe
in the workplace.
Awe is defined as an emotional experience that occurs when
individuals are faced with things that are vast, grand, and
beyond the scope of their current understanding, which
updates their mental schema (Keltner & Haidt, 2003; Shiota
et al., 2007). To meet this definition of awe, the emotion must
contain two main components: perceived vastness and a need
for accommodation (Rudd et al., 2012). According to the awe
prototype theory (Keltner & Haidt, 2003), the stimulating fac-
tors of awe have been identified from three aspects: first, physi-
cal elicitors, such as magnificent mountains and rivers and
other natural scenes; second, social elicitors, such as religion,
music, and influential and phenomenal individuals at the socie-
tal level; and third, cognitive elicitors, such as myths, legends,
and other anecdotes beyond ones understanding. Therefore,
to induce awe, the stimuli used by scholars usually involve
magnificent art, spectacular beauty, and extraordinary human
achievements (Guan et al., 2019; Kahn & Cargile, 2021). In
behavioral experiments, awe has been induced in a variety of
ways, including audio-visual initiation, recall and writing initia-
tion, and reading initiation (Prade & Saroglou, 2016; Zhao
et al., 2018). In fact, the three prototype awe elicitors can all
be found in the workplace (Hu & Meng, 2022; Sheprow &
Harrison, 2022). Specifically, when faced with physical awe
elicitors (e.g., the beauty of the workplace), social elicitors
(e.g., great leaders and heroes in the organization), or cognitive
elicitors (e.g., the organizations glorious history, culture, and
achievements), employees are likely to generate a strong per-
ception of awe. Similarly, stimuli related to colleagues
(e.g., coworkersabilities, virtues, and dedication to the organi-
zation) can also evoke awe (Hu & Meng, 2022).
In conclusion, our review of the awe literature indicates
that empirical studies on awe induced in the workplace are
scarce and limited in scope. In addition to filling this research
gap, it would be beneficial for managers to shape employees
daily work experience to facilitate awe perception so as to
spread the positive outcomes of awe within the organization.
Prosocial intention and prosocial behavior
As a psychologist, Eisenberg (1985) believes that true prosocial
behavior is motivated not by the prospect of getting rewards or
avoiding punishment, but by the desire to help others or to
seek benefits for others. Primary forms of prosocial behaviors
are donating money and volunteering time to help others
(Guan et al., 2019). Regarding the measurement of prosocial-
ity, existing studies have not agreed on the appropriate
approach and content. For example, Guan et al. (2019)sug-
gested that awe would lead to prosocial tendency, and they
measured prosocial tendency by using the prosocial disposition
scale developed by Carlo and Randall (2002). Rudd et al.
(2012) used four items to assess individualslikelihood to vol-
unteer time and donate money. However, these studies, which
used self-reported measurements, have not reached a consensus
on the content of prosocial behavior. Thus, their conclusions
need to be further verified. In addition, other scholars have
raised concerns about the validity of the self-reported method.
For example, the responses may be affected by ones response
style (e.g., some prefer extreme options, while others prefer
neutral options), differences in comprehension, and other fac-
tors (Mõttus et al., 2012). Given that prosocial behaviors are
positive in nature, ones response may be heavily influenced by
social desirability, and there may be a tendency to exaggerate
their presence (Guo et al., 2019). Therefore, the traditional
self-reported method cannot objectively and accurately mea-
sure prosocial intention and behavior.
The experimental method can make up for this deficiency.
For example, Prade and Saroglou (2016) demonstrated that
awe positively affects generosity and helping, and they mea-
sured prosociality by experimentally examining peoples will-
ingness to allocate money and to help others in need
(e.g., when asked for help with homework or exams). Hafen-
brack et al. (2020) adopted the financial allocation task to
operationalize prosocial behavior. However, these studies actu-
ally measured prosocial tendency (i.e., the willingness and abil-
ity to help others) rather than actual prosocial behavior. It is
possible that although one expresses the willingness to perform
prosocial behavior, the behavior is not actually performed, for
various reasons. Our study establishes a field setting to allow
the actual performance of the behavior. It thus distinguishes
between prosocial intention and prosocial behavior, which
enriches the existing research on awe and prosociality.
Workplace awe and prosocial behavior
AET predicts and explains the influence of an individuals
affective responses to work-related events within the organiza-
tional context. Specifically, this theory describes the integrated
chain of eventemotionattitudebehavior,and systemati-
cally reveals the influencing mechanism of employee emotion
(Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). In the existing literature on
AET, awe is rarely examined. In line with AET, this study
argues that organizational and colleague factors are positive
events within the organization, which may arouse awe and then
facilitate prosocial intention and ultimately prosocial behavior.
First, awe alters how individuals interact and perceive their
surroundings, which is distinct from what occurs with many
other emotional experiences, as those frequently examined in
the AET literature (e.g., joy, anger) make people focus more
on the self in general (Tracy & Robins, 2004). In contrast, awe
can divert individualsattention from their personal identities,
diminishing their personal concerns of self-interest so that
more available attentional resources can be allocated to others
(Bai et al., 2017; Shiota et al., 2007). Perlin and Li (2020) fur-
ther pointed out that awe would make people feel small
because it triggers accommodative processes, self-development,
and the enhancement of an other-focused ego. Thus, when
employees perceive awe elicited by organizational or colleague
factors (e.g., the beauty of the workplace, the status and power
of the organization, and coworkerscharm, status, and power),
they tend to rethink and reframe their relationships with the
outside world, are likely to put self-concerns behind interests
of the organization and colleagues, and to make attempts to
connect with others in a prosocial way.
Second, awe can awaken individualsself-transcendence,
that is transcending ones self-boundary (Stellar et al., 2017;
Zhao et al., 2018), which helps to facilitate their pursuit of the
true self and further enhances the prosocial tendency to donate
to charity (Jiang & Sedikides, 2021). In addition, perceived
awe can weaken ones individualism, which allows one to deal
with problems in a relatively long-term and far-sighted manner
(Rudd et al., 2012; Yang et al., 2016). Specifically, when
employees perceive awe in the workplace (e.g., when they learn
that organizational or coworkerspractices contribute to the
well-being of other employees, customers, or the general pub-
lic), they are more likely to transcend their daily agendas,
engage in some activities beneficial to others, and be willing to
consider the long-term development of the organization
Finally, experiencing awe can expand ones cognitive and
emotional space (Griskevicius et al., 2010). For example, awe
can increase the perceived time availability of individuals and
reduce their impatience with ongoing tasks, and thus they are
more likely to voluntarily invest time to help others (Rudd
et al., 2012). In other words, experiences of awe expand peo-
ples perception of time, making them less pressured and
aggressive, and more willing to spend time performing proso-
cial behaviors (Yang et al., 2016). Moreover, as a positive emo-
tion, awe widens ones thoughtaction repertoire by
promoting novel and creative ideas, and then helps to establish
social ties with others (Hafenbrack et al., 2020). Overall, as
illustrated in the existing literature, awe is positively related to
moral decision-making (Piff et al., 2015), generosity, time-
giving (Prade & Saroglou, 2016), and prosocial values (Zhao
et al., 2018). Therefore, it can be expected that awe still has
these positive effects in the work environment. In this experi-
mental study, to confirm that the results are attributable
mainly to awe rather than to other positive emotions, neutral
emotion and pleasant emotion are included as contrasts, and it
is predicted that:
Hypothesis 1. Awe elicited by organizational
and coworker factors has a stronger effect on
prosocial behavior (vs. neutral emotion and
pleasant emotion).
Prosocial intention as the underlying mechanism
AET suggests that affective responses can influence ones atti-
tude and behavior in two ways: directly influencing the behav-
ior, and indirectly influencing the behavior by affecting the
attitude (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). In this study, we distin-
guish between prosocial intention and prosocial behavior.
Intention is intrinsically different from real action, because the
former focuses on the thoughts, feelings, and willingness to
implement the behavior, while the latter emphasizes the actual
occurrence of the behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1977). Thus,
prosocial intention is just a prerequisite for the occurrence of
the prosocial behavior. Unfortunately, most existing organiza-
tional psychology studies focus on behavioral intention rather
than the behavior actually carried out (Kahn & Cargile, 2021;
Piff et al., 2015; Prade & Saroglou, 2016). Based on the AET
theoretical framework, this paper proposes that the events that
trigger awe in the workplace will positively affect employees
attitudes (i.e., prosocial intention) and then their behavior (i.e.,
prosocial behavior). Specifically, this study predicts that
prosocial intention can mediate the relationship between work-
place awe and prosocial behavior.
Hypothesis 2. Prosocial intention positively pre-
dicts prosocial behavior.
Hypothesis 3. Awe elicited by organizational fac-
tors and colleague factors would positively affect
prosocial behavior (vs. neutral and pleasant emo-
tion) through the mediating role of prosocial
A total of 299 participants in the United States completed an
online experiment via Amazons Mechanical Turk (MTurk).
The participants satisfied two requirements: aged 18 or above,
and currently full-time or part-time employed. The partici-
pants were informed that they had been recruited to participate
in a recall task, and were randomly assigned to one of the three
narrative recall conditions with the ratio of 2:1:1. To be spe-
cific, considering that the participants were asked to recall their
experience of awe resulting from either organization- or
colleague-related factors, to collect an adequate sample of both
organization- and colleague-induced awe, half of the recruited
participants were asked to recall an awe-related experience,
while the other half were asked to recall either a pleasant or a
neutral experience. After removing one participant who sug-
gested that their data should not be used, and 34 who did not
report any related emotional experiences, the final sample was
264 [awe (n=127), pleasantness (n=59), neutral (n=78)].
Among these participants, 152 were male (57.8%) and 107
were female (40.7%). The participants ranged in age from
18 to 71 years (M=36.3 years, SD =11.46). The average job
tenure was 13.65 years (SD =9.15). 72.6% of the participants
were White, 10.3% were African-American, 9.1% were Asian,
5.7% were Hispanic, and 2.3% were multi-racial or other.
This study adopted a between-subject experimental design.
The participants were instructed to recall and write about a
time when they were in a situation with a prototypical elicitor
of the target emotion. After emotion elicitation, a manipula-
tion check was conducted. Then the participants were told that
the task had been completed and that they would receive the
proper payments. In addition, they were asked whether they
were willing to help the researchers with another research pro-
ject in exchange for very low pay. If a participant opted out,
the task would be terminated, indicating a low prosocial inten-
tion. If a participant was willing to complete the additional task
with low pay, then they were considered to have a high proso-
cial intention. Participants who agreed to continue could click
on the link provided to them, or copy and paste the link to a
web browser. Whether or not the participants completed the
second task did not affect the reward they would receive from
the recall task. If the participants completed the irrelevant sur-
vey, they were considered to have actually performed prosocial
Materials and procedure
All participants were instructed to recall a work experience,
and the instructions were adapted from Piff et al. (2015).
Participants in the awe group were told that awe is an emo-
tional response to things perceived to be vast and astonish-
ing that alters the way we understand the world(Hu &
Meng, 2022). They were then told to recall and write down
a previous experience of awe arising from organization- or
colleague-related factors. To guarantee that most respon-
dents could recall a work-related awe experience, they were
not designated as needing to recall an organization- or a
colleague-related awe elicitor: either source was acceptable.
Participants in the awe group were provided with a few gen-
eral examples to help them understand awe. Examples
include, but are not limited to, a story of an inspirational
co-worker, a leader displaying great skill or mastery, or a col-
league completing tasks that may improve peopleslives
(Hu & Meng, 2022). In contrast, those in the pleasantness
condition were told to describe the instances that they felt
pleasant in the workplace, while those in the neutral condi-
tion were told to illustrate a non-emotional daily affair in
the workplace. All participants were instructed to describe
their feelings during the experience or their routine work
tasks vividly and to provide as many details as possible.
After the participants had completed the recall task, they
were asked to report the extent to which they perceived anger,
awe, disgust, fear, pride, sadness, and pleasure (1 =almost
none,7=to a great extent). After the participants answered the
manipulation check questions, the procedures described in the
Design section were implemented to measure their prosocial
intention and actual prosocial behavior.
Descriptive statistics
The effect of emotion priming was tested using a one-way anal-
ysis of variance (ANOVA) in SPSS 26.0, and η
was adopted
as an indicator of the effect size. According to the standard pro-
posed by Cohen (1984), when η
=0.01, the effect size is
rather small; when η
=0.06, the effect size is medium; and
when η
reaches 0.14, the effect size is considered to be large.
As shown in Table 1, there were significant differences in awe
among the three conditions, with awe being significantly
higher in the awe group (M=5.04, SD =1.81) than in the
neutral group (M=2.59, SD =1.83) and in the pleasant
emotion group (M=2.49, SD =1.74; F=63.30, p< .001;
=0.33). Awe was not significantly different in the pleasant
emotion group and the neutral group, suggesting the successful
manipulation of awe. Pleasantness was significantly higher in
the pleasant emotion group (M=5.20, SD =1.55) than in
the neutral group (M=4.51, SD =1.81; F=3.00, p< .05;
=0.02), but was not significantly different from that in the
awe group (M=4.98, SD =1.77). This result is understand-
able, as previous studies showed that awe could enhance ones
positive emotions (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015). Given that pleas-
antness in the awe group and in the neutral group were not sig-
nificantly different from each other, it can be concluded that
the manipulation of pleasantness was also successful.
Moreover, sadness was significantly higher in the neutral
group (M=2.12, SD =1.69) and in the awe group
(M=1.85, SD =1.48) than in the pleasant emotion group
(M=1.41, SD =0.95; F=4.06, p< .05; η
=0.03). Anger
was significantly higher in the neutral group (M=1.96,
SD =1.45) than in the awe group (M=1.44, SD =0.97)
and in the pleasant emotion group (M=1.32, SD =0.97;
F=6.85, p< .05; η
=0.05). Finally, disgust was signifi-
cantly higher in the neutral group (M=1.82, SD =1.47)
than in the awe group (M=1.52, SD =1.27) and in the
pleasant emotion group (M=1.24, SD =0.65; F=3.84,
p< .01; η
=0.03). There were no significant between-group
differences in the other emotions (e.g., pride, fear).
Content analysis
Given that awe elicitors in the workplace can be further classi-
fied into several categories, and that we asked participants in
the awe condition to recall and write down their previous expe-
rience of awe due to either organization- or colleague-related
factors, the open-ended responses were manually coded before
subsequent analyses. Coding of the recalled awe experience is
based on the pioneering findings of Hu & Meng (2022),
which follow the guidance of grounded theory and categorize
awe elicitors in the workplace. They conclude that
organization-related awe elicitors include virtue, ability and
achievement, the status and power of the organization, and
beauty of the workplace, all of which are carefully defined.
Similarly, colleague-related awe elicitors include virtue, ability
and achievement, dedication, charisma, and the status and
power of colleagues.
Instances that did not describe any emotional experience
related to that required by the experimental condition were
excluded in the preliminary screening stage. During content
analysis, following the definitions proposed by Hu & Meng
(2022), the authors individually read each instance, made
decisions on whether the instance fell within the scope of
organization-related awe elicitors or colleague-related awe elicitors,
discussed and resolved controversies, and finally reached an agree-
ment. Among the 127 valid cases of awe experience, 94 were
colleague-related awe experiences, 33 were organization-related
awe experiences, and none of the instances included both organi-
zational and colleague factors.
Representative descriptions of organization-related awe
experiences include, I feel awe at the fact that my company
was able to come up with a stimulus plan before the govern-
ment. I feel grateful, thankful, and awe that they are really
walking the walk and not just pretending to be great words on
a wall.A representative description of colleague-related awe
experience is, I work with a general manager who cares very
dearly for his employees. During the 2008 crisis, (members of)
staff were furloughed (and on) reduced pay, and started having
trouble paying bills and mortgages. The manager saw what was
happening, and reduced his pay in order to allow more money to
go to the employees to pay for these bills. I was in awe that some-
one would be so unselfish with their own pay to help out his
Hypotheses testing
A one-way ANOVA was conducted to examine the effect of
emotions on prosocial intention and prosocial behavior. Fig-
ures 1and 2show that there were indeed differences in proso-
cial intention and prosocial behavior in the three conditions.
Prosocial intention was significantly higher in the awe emotion
group (M=0.60, SD =0.49) than in the neutral group
(M=0.45, SD =0.50) and in the pleasant emotion group
(M=0.41, SD =0.50; F=3.90, p< .05). Similarly, though
TABLE 1 One-Way ANOVA Results of Emotion Priming in the Three Emotional Conditions
Awe group
(N =127) M SD
Neutral group
(N =78) M SD Pleasant emotion group (N =59) M SD η
Anger 1.44 0.97
1.96 1.45
1.32 0.97
Awe 5.04 1.81
2.59 1.83
2.49 1.74
Disgust 1.52 1.27 1.82 1.47
1.24 0.65
Fear 1.79 1.48 2.01 1.53 1.59 1.26 0.01
Pride 4.31 2.09 3.91 2.04 4.12 2.01 0.01
Sadness 1.85 1.48
2.12 1.69
1.41 0.95
Pleasure 4.98 1.77 4.51 1.81
5.20 1.55
These means are significantly different from those in the awe group (p< .05).
These means are significantly different from those in the neutral group (p< .05).
These means are significantly different from those in the pleasant emotion group (p< .05).
only marginally significant, prosocial behavior was higher in
the awe group (M=0.44, SD =0.50) than in the neutral
group (M=0.29, SD =0.46) and in the pleasant emotion
group (M=0.32, SD =0.47; F=2.62, p< .10). These
results provide support for Hypothesis 1.
Next, it was tested whether prosocial intention would
mediate the effect of awe elicited by colleague factors or organi-
zational factors on prosocial behavior, respectively (see
Table 2). This study controlled for four variables that have
been theorized or empirically shown to affect prosocial behav-
ior. Tenure was controlled for because it has been found that
employees who haved worked in the organization for a longer
time tend to engage in prosocial behaviors more
(Peltokorpi, 2020). Age and gender have also been controlled
for in previous studies of awe and prosociality (Pelled
et al., 2000; Piff et al., 2015), because older people tend to
engage in prosocial behavior more (Fasbender et al., 2016) and
females sometimes respond more strongly than males to inter-
group contexts and show more empathy (Simpson & Van
Vugt, 2009). The nature of work (i.e., full time or part time)
was controlled for because employees with a history of full-
time work are more likely to be a volunteer (Chambré &
Einolf, 2008).
To begin with, linear regression analysis was performed
with awe elicited by organizational factors as the independent
variable, prosocial intention as the mediator, and prosocial
behavior as the dependent variable. The neutral condition was
coded as 0, and the awe condition elicited by organizational
factors was coded as 1 for path analysis. The regression results
showed that awe elicited by organizational factors had a signifi-
cant positive effect on prosocial intention compared with neu-
tral emotions (r=.684, SE =.283, p< .05). Prosocial
intention had a significant positive effect on prosocial behavior
(r=.985, SE =.045, p< .001), and the mediation effect was
significant (r=.674, SE =.289, p< .05).
TABLE 2 Test of Mediation Effects for the Paths from Awe to Prosocial Behavior
Prosocial intention Prosocial behavior
A1 A2 A3 A4 A1 A2 A3 A4
Age .037 (.018)*.016 (.020) .051 (.024)*.022 (.029) .039 (.016)*.010 (.017) .055 (.021)** .013 (.031)
Gender .620 (.211)** .427 (.178)*.072 (.209) .145 (.397) .054 (.155) .087 (.102) .165 (.127) .143 (.058)*
Tenure .039 (.023) .002 (.027) .052 (.029) .007 (0.037) .060 (.022)** .021 (.026) .069 (.025)** .012 (.039)
Work nature .135 (.219) .356 (.238) .277 (.282) .769 (.326)*.008 (.176) .085 (.169) .018 (.219) .137 (.218)
Awe .444 (.203)*.625 (.228)** .684 (.283)*.723 (.294)*.063 (.152) .190 (.148) .174 (.215) .196 (.193)
.966 (.037)*** .999 (.092)*** .985 (.045)*** .992 (.042)***
.162 .157 .174 .250 .942 .998 .974 .986
Indirect effect .429*.624** .674*.717*
Total effect .366 .434 .500 .521
Note. A1 compares awe elicited by colleague factors with the neutral emotion.
A2 compares awe elicited by colleague factors with the pleasant emotion.
A3 compares awe elicited by organizational factors with the neutral emotion.
A4 compares awe elicited by organizational factors with the pleasant emotion.
*p< .05, ** p< .01, *** p< .001.
FIGURE 1 Prosocial intention in the three groups. *p< .05; error bars
represent the standard error around the mean.
FIGURE 2 Prosocial behavior in the three groups. *p< .05; ns =not
significant; error bars represent the standard error around the mean.
In the second step, the path analysis was performed by cod-
ing the pleasant emotion condition as 0 and the awe condition
elicited by organizational factors as 1. The regression results
showed that awe elicited by organizational factors had a signifi-
cant positive effect on prosocial intention compared with pleas-
ant emotion (r=.723, SE =.294, p< .05). Prosocial
intention had a significant positive effect on prosocial behavior
(r=.992, SE =.042, p< .001), and the indirect effect was
significant (r=.717, SE =.288, p< .05). Therefore, awe eli-
cited by organizational factors had a significant effect on proso-
cial behavior through the mediation of prosocial intention
(vs. neutral and pleasant emotion). Hypotheses 13 were sup-
ported, and the regression path diagram is shown in Figure 3.
Next, whether prosocial intention would mediate the
impact of awe elicited by colleague factors on prosocial behav-
ior was examined. Linear regression analysis was performed
with awe elicited by colleagues as the independent variable,
prosocial intention as the mediator, and prosocial behavior as
the dependent variable. Similarly, the neutral condition was
coded as 0, and the awe condition elicited by coworker factors
was coded as 1. The results showed that awe elicited by coworker
factors had a significant positive effect on prosocial intention
compared with neutral emotion (r=.444, SE =.203, p<.05).
Prosocial intention had a significant positive effect on prosocial
behavior (r=.966, SE =.037, p< .001), and the mediation
effect was significant (r=.429, SE =.198, p< .05).
A path analysis was again performed with the pleasant
emotion condition coded as 0, and the awe condition elicited
by coworker factors coded as 1. The regression results showed
that awe elicited by coworker factors had a significant positive
effect on prosocial intention compared with pleasant emotion
(r=.625, SE =.228, p< .01), prosocial intention had a sig-
nificant positive effect on prosocial behavior (r=.999,
SE =.092, p< .001), and the indirect effect was significant
(r=.624, SE =.230, p< .01). Therefore, awe elicited by cow-
orker factors had a significant positive effect on prosocial
behavior through the mediating role of prosocial intention
(vs. neutral and pleasant emotions). Thus Hypotheses 13
were supported again, and the regression path diagram is
shown in Figure 4.
Finally, the effects of awe elicited by organizational factors
and by colleagues on prosocial behavior were compared. Awe
elicited by coworker factors was encoded as 0, and awe elicited
by organizational factors was encoded as 1. The results showed
FIGURE 4 The effect of awe elicited by colleague factors on prosocial behavior. (A) compared with neutral emotion; (B) compared with pleasant emotion.
FIGURE 3 The effect of awe elicited by organizational factors on prosocial behavior. (A) compared with neutral emotion; (B) compared with pleasant
that the difference in the indirect effect through prosocial
intention was non-significant (r=.235, SE =.327,
p=.473), indicating that there was no significant difference in
the indirect effect of awe triggered by the two work-related factors
on prosocial behavior. In addition, the difference in total effect
was also non-significant (r=.145, SE =.308, p=.637).
Building upon prior studies arguing for the positive association
between awe and prosocial behavior, this study paid attention
to awe evoked by workplace elicitors, and designed a behavioral
experiment to explore its effect on prosocial behavior and its
underlying influencing mechanism. Consistent with previous
studies that reported that perceived awe increases prosocial
behavior (Guan et al., 2019; Prade & Saroglou, 2016; Stellar
et al., 2017), this study demonstrated that subjects who per-
ceive awe elicited by workplace factors also engage in more pro-
social behaviors. It was further found that awe caused by
organizational factors and awe evoked by colleagues have sig-
nificant positive effects on prosocial intention and prosocial
behavior, the effects of which are comparable, and that proso-
cial intention mediates the influence of workplace awe on pro-
social behavior.
Theoretical implications
This study found that employees can perceive awe in the work
situation by recalling organization- and colleague-related expe-
rience (e.g., virtues, abilities, achievements, status, and power),
which replicates a recent pioneering study (Hu & Meng,
2022). Different from previous studies that induced awe via
magnificent natural landscapes, our study found that work-
place factors can also trigger awe. Importantly, compared with
narratives of pleasant experience at work or routine work, nar-
ratives of awe at work contribute to prosociality. Consistent
with the existing research on awe, compared with neutral emo-
tion and pleasantness, awe makes people feel small and associ-
ate themselves with others, and increases prosocial behaviors as
a result (Chirico & Yaden, 2018; Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015;
Perlin & Li, 2020). This study also theoretically complements
the research on the role of positive emotions in bringing about
prosocial behavior and proves that, in addition to empathy and
gratitude (e.g., Michie, 2009; Stellar et al., 2017), workplace
awe is another predictor of prosocial behavior, which enriches
organizational psychology research on prosociality.
AET is a mainstream psychological model designed to
explain the relationship between emotions in the workplace
and job satisfaction, job performance, and other work-related
behaviors (Chacko & Conway, 2019). While awe is commonly
accepted as a positive emotion in general, in previous studies
based on AET, awe has been long neglected. By applying AET,
this study found the mediating mechanism of prosocial inten-
tion between awe and prosocial behavior, indicating that, pro-
social intention and prosocial behavior are the proximal and
distal results of awe respectively, which verifies the emotional
response chain of eventemotionattitudebehavior.
More importantly, by distinguishing between prosocial
intention and the actual prosocial behavior, this study contrib-
utes to the measurement of prosociality because previous
experimental studies regarded both willingness to help others
and the actual help as prosocial behaviors (Kahn & Car-
gile, 2021; Piff et al., 2015; Prade & Saroglou, 2016). In previ-
ous studies, prosociality was predominately measured either by
self-reported scales (Guan et al., 2019; Rudd et al., 2012)or
by imaginative scenario experiments (Hafenbrack et al., 2020;
Prade & Saroglou, 2016). For example, in a typical scenario
experiment, participants might be asked to imagine that they
had received a barrel of money and were faced with the choice
to keep it all to themselves or distribute a portion of it to a col-
league in difficulty. In both cases, the participantsresponses
would be biased by social desirability (Guo et al., 2019). Imag-
inative scenario experiments are even more problematic, as the
situation is highly hypothetical. This study is a field experiment
in nature wherein participants on MTurk deemed themselves
as workers in the gig economy, and they claimed and com-
pleted tasks to earn rewards. In addition, the participants had
no idea that they were taking part in an experiment and were
distributed into a certain group, which ensured the objectivity
and accuracy of the measurement of prosociality.
This study also supports previous studies that point out
that positive emotions should not be viewed as a holistic vari-
able, as each emotion has its own triggers, action tendencies,
and subsequent cognitive and behavioral outcomes
(Tong, 2015). Although both awe and pleasantness share over-
all positive components (Joye & Bolderdijk, 2015), the effect
of workplace awe on prosocial behavior is significantly stronger
than that of pleasantness. Thus, the findings of this study help
advance existing research on the emotional revolutionin
organizational behaviors. To be specific, managers are urged to
stimulate employeesexperience of awe in the workplace to
promote the occurrence of prosocial behavior.
Practical implications
Managers may hope that their employees perform more proso-
cial behaviors in the workplace because prosocial behavior is
manifested as organizational citizenship behavior in the organi-
zational context, which helps to improve the effectiveness of
organizational functioning (Spector & Fox, 2002). On the one
hand, managers should be aware that some workplace events
(such as the organizations participation in charitable donations
or colleaguesdemonstration of excellent work ability) may trigger
awe in some employees, which has a significant positive impact
on their prosocial intention and actual prosocial behavior. Man-
agers may encourage these awe-inspired employees to recall and
share with other colleagues the awe introduced by organizational
or colleague factors (Sheprow & Harrison, 2022)soastoposi-
tively influence more colleagues.
On the other hand, our research found that organizational
factors (e.g., organizational virtue, ability and achievement, and
beauty of the workplace) and colleague factors (e.g., colleagues
virtue, ability and achievement, and dedication) can elicit awe and
predict employeesprosocial behavior. To induce awe, organiza-
tions may actively assume social responsibility to both internal
and external stakeholders (Hu & Meng, 2022). Within the
organization, managers should treat their employees well (e.g.,
through maintaining their health and protecting their safety,
improving their professional skills, facilitating their well-being,
and protecting equity in the workplace). Externally, organizations
should implement ethical practices (e.g., investing in the develop-
ment of the local area, protecting the environment, and providing
high-quality products or services to customers). Organizations
could set up awesome work environments, as do Facebook and
Google (Hu & Meng, 2022). Organizations could also share the
story of their corporate development and growth with their
employees, so that they can perceive the capabilities and achieve-
ments of the organization. Finally, managers could improve their
own ability, devote themselves to their work, and set an example
for their employees, so that the employees may feel awe, follow
the leadership to show their goodwill, and improve their work
Despite its theoretical and practical contributions, this study
has several limitations. In this experiment, while both prosocial
intention and prosocial behavior were measured by behavioral
indicators (which is a merit of this study), and the prosocial
behavior of interest was helping in nature. As an extension,
future research could systematically examine the effect of work-
place awe on other types of prosocial behavior, such as dona-
tion, sharing, cooperation, and volunteering (Guan
et al., 2019).
In addition, other outcomes of workplace awe should be
explored, including work engagement, persistence behavior,
and innovative behavior. Chirico et al. (2018) found that awe
elicited by grand natural landscapes may enhance employees
cognitive flexibility, allowing them to propose new solutions
when faced with tasks, and ultimately contribute to the emer-
gence of innovative behavior in the organization. Sheprow and
Harrison (2022) suggested that individuals who narrate experi-
ences of awe during daily work are better able to perceive work
meaningfulness and pursue occupational goals. Future studies
should further examine the impact of workplace awe on varied
types of work behavior.
This study examined the effect of awe evoked by workplace
elicitors on prosocial intention and prosocial behavior. In an
experiment with a between-subject design, the participants
were instructed to recall and describe an awe experience at
work, a pleasant experience at work, or their daily work rou-
tines, after which they were given the opportunity to
voluntarily help the researchers with another project with mini-
mum pay. Compared with neutral emotion and pleasantness,
workplace awe was found to promote prosocial intention and
the actual prosocial behavior. In addition, prosocial intention
was found to mediate the relationship between workplace awe
and prosocial behavior. The authors encourage future research
to explore other beneficial outcomes of workplace awe, so that
scholars can better understand workplace awe as a vehicle to
boost desirable results.
This work was funded by the Shanghai Philosophy and Social
Science Planning Project (Grant number: 2021ZGL004), and
the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant
number: 71701131). We would like to thank Dr. Biyun Hu
for giving insights into the design of the experiment, and Miss
Xiaodie Chen for helping us collect data.
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
The whole study received ethical approval from the Ethics
Committee of School of Business and Management, Shanghai
International Studies University and was carried out in accor-
dance with its requirements. All participants gave written
informed consent according to the Declaration of Helsinki.
Liang Meng
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How to cite this article: Meng, L., & Wang, X.
(2022). Awe in the workplace promotes prosocial
behavior. PsyCh Journal,110.
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Character strengths (CSs) are positive traits that have been shown to efficiently and effectively promote a host of positive outcomes, outside and inside the workplace. Despite their theoretical moral basis, they have not been systematically and wholly explored as antecedents of, and correspondingly unused as, mechanisms to increase prosocial behavior (PB) at work. Prosocial behavior at the workplace is desirable, with research pointing to a host of organizational benefits. The utilization of CSs toward PB at work seems like a missed opportunity, given that CSs have been demonstrated as robust positive mechanisms and given that they are characterized by qualities that are accommodating of the complexity of PB: distinct, value-laden, manifest behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally, are plural and sensitive to individual differences and are capable of balancing positive and negative outcomes. The current article will encourage further understanding, examination and implementation of CSs at the workplace, specifically for prosocial purposes, by exploring their conceptual fit and by reviewing initial empirical evidence.
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Impression management (IM) in the personnel selection context is traditionally seen as a dishonest response distortion that indicates maladaptive coping. However, it has recently been proposed as a personality trait that relates to better mental health and work performance. In the current investigation, we examined the role of IM in buffering depression-related social stress and predicting individual’s adaptive work behaviors. Through 3 studies in a large sample (N = 2,317) in a real postgraduate enrollment context and 1 follow-up study, we found that IM moderated the associations of depression with 2 stressors related to lack of tangible and intangible stress-coping resources. The associations of depression with social support and socioeconomic status were weaker among individuals with higher IM tendency (Study 1). IM also predicted more perseverance in solving highly difficult problems (Study 2) and enduring boredom (Study 3), which was thought to be adaptive and crucial in achieving occupational success. Furthermore, we also showed that IM in the selection context predicted better adjustment and performance in real academic life after the enrollment (Study 4). These findings demonstrate the positive role of IM in making inferences about applicants’ mental health and potential work performances, which is the top issue in personnel selection practices.
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The present research tested whether mindfulness, a state characterized by focused, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, increases prosocial behavior in the workplace or work-related contexts. Study 1a was a longitudinal field experiment at a US insurance company. Compared to workers under waitlist control, employees who were assigned to a daily mindfulness training reported more helping behaviors over a five day period both in quantitative surveys and qualitative daily diaries. Study 1b, conducted in a large consulting company in India, extends these findings with a field experiment in which co-workers rated the prosocial behavior of teammates in a round robin design. Moving from devoting time to devoting money, in Study 2a and 2b we find that individuals randomly assigned to engage in a focused breathing meditation were more financially generous. To understand the mechanisms of mindfulness’ effects on prosocial behavior, Study 3 found support for empathy and moderate support for perspective taking as mediators. This study also examined the effects of induced state mindfulness via two different mindfulness inductions, focused breathing and loving kindness meditation. Our results indicate secular state mindfulness can make people more other-oriented and helpful. This benefit holds even in workplace contexts, where being helpful toward others might face constraints but is nevertheless of great importance.
Daily narratives of work can include a mix of ordinary actions and awe-inspiring moments that reveal a vaster, more meaningful reality. When awe is experienced in the context of work, it can prompt self-referential sensemaking about what these experiences mean for the work individuals do and who they are. Leveraging an inductive study of 3,095 daily reports from 49 crews that spent two weeks each in a Mars simulation environment, as well as 13 semi-structured interviews, we examine (1) how individuals narrate experiences of awe during daily work and (2) how these experiences of awe influence individuals’ construction of self-narratives. We present a process theory of how individuals craft narrative anchors of awe and meaning from the raw materials of their daily work experiences, and later draw on these anchors to incorporate an enduring sense of meaning into their summary narratives of work and their self-narratives. Our emergent findings build theory by highlighting the importance of awe at work and by inducing awe as a link between narratives of routine, daily work and meaningful self-narratives.
Awe is an emotional response to stimuli that are perceived to be vast (e.g., tall trees, sunsets) and that defy accommodation by existing mental structures. Curiously, awe has prosocial effects despite often being elicited by nonsocial stimuli. The prevailing explanation for why awe has prosocial effects is that awe reduces attention to self-oriented concerns (i.e., awe makes the self small), thereby making more attention available for other-oriented concerns. However, several questions remain unaddressed by the current formulation of this small-self hypothesis. How are awe researchers defining the self, and what implications might their theory of selfhood have for understanding the “smallness” of the self? Building on theories regarding psychological selfhood, we propose that awe may interact with the self not just in terms of attentional focus but rather at multiple layers of selfhood. We further reinterpret the small self using the notion of the quiet ego from personality psychology. Linking awe to an enriched model of the self provided by personality psychology may be fruitful for explaining a range of phenomena and motivating future research.
Social categorization is predominately assumed to have negative effects on the prosocial behavior of host country national (HCN) employees toward expatriates in foreign subsidiaries. Challenging this assumption, I draw on the common ingroup identity model to propose that dual identity – simultaneous identification with membership in a subgroup and in a superordinate group – reduces HCNs’ intergroup biases and facilitates prosocial behavior. More specifically, I hypothesize that HCNs’ organizational identity has a moderating effect on the positive relationship between HCNs’ expatriate outgroup categorization and dual identity, such that this relationship is weaker when organizational identity is low. Furthermore, I hypothesize that dual identity mediates the relationship between expatriate outgroup categorization and two prosocial behaviors: information sharing and affiliative citizenship behavior. Results from the data collected from 1,290 HCN employees in Japan provide support for these hypotheses and the moderated mediation model.