Feeling small, in awe of nature, makes people more generous
Think about the majestic towers of Monument Valley. Or think about the stars painted on the ceiling of Grand Central Station. These are two awe-inspiring wonders.
Awe-inspiring wonders are all around. Sometimes taking a moment to stop and appreciate something like the Grand Canyon or a clear, starry night can make you feel like a tiny part of a huge universe. It is swirling around us. That feeling of being a small speck might actually make you a kinder, more generous person.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines awe. It is "a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder."
Now comes the research. It was done by teams from the University of California Berkeley and UC Irvine. They found that feeling awe might make people help each other out more.
The researchers' study shows that awe is often fleeting. It is hard to describe. But it serves a vital social function. So said Paul Piff in a statement. He is an assistant professor. He teaches psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine. "By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest." Piff says that improves the welfare of others.
The researchers showed participants images of nature. The images included video clips from the BBC series Planet Earth. Then Piff and his team asked questions. The researchers measured ethical behavior. And they measured generosity. Those who reported feeling a sense of awe or recalled a time when they felt awe showed more ethical behavior as opposed to someone who felt pride. This is according to Adam Hoffman, writing for the Greater Good Science Center.
This wasn't just about pretty images of animals. After all, awe is defined partly by the fear one feels. It comes in the face of something larger than themselves. In fact, the same generous behavior was seen in people who were shown scenes of natural disasters. That's according to Hoffman. Whether it was watching scenes of the Amazonian rainforest or a violent volcanic eruption, participants were more willing to share resources with each other afterwards.
Awe doesn't just inspire ethical behavior. Recent studies suggest that feeling awe may boost your immune system. And it could make you feel more creative. It can even make you feel that you have more time to get things done.
"When people experience awe, they really want to share that experience with other people," Piff tells Hoffman. Piff says it suggests, "that it has this particularly viral component to it. Maybe this is yet another way that awe binds people together." People just naturally want to share their positive feelings with each other, Piff says.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do we think of nature as “big?”
Write your answers in the comments section below