Feeling small, in awe of nature, makes people more generous Monument Valley (Thinkstock)
Feeling small, in awe of nature, makes people more generous
Lexile

From the majestic towers of Monument Valley to the stars painted on the ceiling of Grand Central Station, 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 massive universe swirling around. That sensation of being a small speck might actually make you a kinder, more generous person.
 
The Oxford English Dictionary defines awe as "a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder." Now comes research by teams from the University of California Berkeley and UC Irvine. They found that experiencing awe might make people help each other out more.
 
"Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function." So said Paul Piff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine, in a statement. "By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others."
 
After exposing participants to images of nature (and video clips from the BBC series Planet Earth), Piff and his team asked questions. The researchers measured ethical behavior and generosity. Those who reported feeling a sense of awe or recalled a time when they felt awe demonstrated more ethical behavior as opposed to someone who felt pride, writes Adam Hoffman 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 in the face of something larger than themselves. In fact, the same generous behavior was observed 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 experiencing awe may boost your immune system. And it could make you feel more creative, too. 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, suggesting that it has this particularly viral component to it," Piff tells Hoffman. "Maybe this is yet another way that awe binds people together - by causing people to want to share their positive experiences collectively with one another."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do we think of nature as “big?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (10)
  • carloc-obr
    4/25/2016 - 01:34 p.m.

    I think of nature as ''big'' becasue of all the the tall trees and ineresting animals you can see and hear from. When we think of nature we think it is huge because nature surrounds us twenty four seven. When we see nature we think it's breath taking because it is so huge .

  • briannec-ste
    4/25/2016 - 09:07 p.m.

    It's so hard to think of the world as not big, to us it is huge. To the universe it is just one small blip on a map, you cant even pick us out in the galaxy

  • ravend-bag
    4/25/2016 - 11:36 p.m.

    Vast empty world, which you have explored none percent of. Nature has many things to show you on its shelf. From big trees, to deep sea, the world will always be not explored.

  • holdeno-3-bar
    4/27/2016 - 02:57 p.m.

    We think of nature as big because we think of everything as relative to us. When talking about how nature awes people, the author said that nature "can make you feel like a tiny part of a massive universe" (par. 1) Nature encompasses all of the universe. Since we are extremely minuscule compared to the cosmos, we classify nature as "big."
    I was indifferent to this article because I don't have a preference for or against nature.

  • julianc-bag
    4/27/2016 - 07:42 p.m.

    Wildlife. One of the greatest aspects of the world.

  • nicholash1-wal
    4/29/2016 - 08:57 a.m.

    The feeling of awe is making people feel more generous and even helping the immune system.Since we seem to have this feeling harnessed and now how to make people feel awe. My question is are there any awe classes you can go to. And if not you should try to make one if there is no negative effects. If you think about it were small we just compare everything to one another and that's why we feel everything is immense.

  • eliset-bag
    5/02/2016 - 10:18 p.m.

    Wildlife is enormous to you and I because we haven't experienced everything there is for humans to adventure.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    5/06/2016 - 09:40 a.m.

    I like to imagine that the Earth is the only planet that is inhabited by life but I know that isn't true at all. We are learning a lot of things including ways that there IS life on other planets.

  • alin-bag
    5/08/2016 - 01:51 p.m.

    We think of nature as 'big' because it is. The universe is never ending, it has unmeasureable beauty and it surrounds us like a blanket all day, every day.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    7/26/2016 - 09:21 p.m.

    This has to be one of my favorite articles from TweenTribune. Nature is the truest form of beauty and I believe those who let themselves experience it fully gain a great appreciation for the world. There's definitely an awestruck factor about standing in the rain as thunder booms overhead or walking through the woods to see a fox wander away from you. The more time people spend outside, the more they begin to notice things. In time people will start taking note of the heart-shaped leaves beneath their feet, chipmunks hiding in the weeds, flowers of weeds glowing in light of the sun, and so much more.

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