Feeling small, in awe of nature, makes people more generous Monument Valley (Thinkstock)
Feeling small, in awe of nature, makes people more generous
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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 vast universe swirling around. And 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 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 in a statement. He is an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine. "By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others."
 
The researchers exposed participants to images of nature. They included video clips from the BBC series Planet Earth. Then Piff and his team asked questions. The researchers measured ethical behavior. They also measured generosity. Those who reported feeling a sense of awe or recalled a time when they felt awe displayed 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 in the face of something larger than themselves. In fact, the same generous behavior was detected 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. 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 experiences with each other, Piff says.

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


COMMENTS (56)
  • josiec-1-bar
    4/21/2016 - 08:00 p.m.

    Us humans think of nature as big because , "After all, awe is defend partly by the fears in face one is something larger than themselves." When humans think of nature they think of something big because nature is constantly surrounding us and towering over us when we walk through a forest or a jungle. Nature is considered big because when someone says nature people can automatically think of a huge forest taking of acres of land, but we are mostly on thinking of the untouched or unharmed things in nature. My opinion is that nature is one of the prettiest things to look at and experience when you are up close to it because it can be very beautiful.

  • maxwellt-2-bar
    4/21/2016 - 08:28 p.m.

    We think of nature as big because of it's apparent detachment from ourselves. For example, "something like the Grand Canyon or a clear, starry night can make you feel like a tiny part of a vast universe swirling around", thus making oneself feel inconsequential. I liked this article because it was a very interesting topic to me.

  • angelad-6-bar
    4/21/2016 - 08:37 p.m.

    Human think of nature as "big" because nature surrounds everyone, everyone is constantly in contact with nature from that tree in your front yard to the chirping birds that wake you up in the morning. From the text you can see that nature is big because of the starry nights humans experience, "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 vast universe swirling around. And that feeling of being a small speck might actually make you a kinder, more generous person." and looking into the vastness of space will make humans think of nature as "big". I found this article interesting because I too can some times feel as a speck in the universe when I look in the night sky. I found this article surprising because I didn't know that just by taking notice of the nature surrounding us can make someone more kind.

  • ben0424-yyca-byo
    4/21/2016 - 09:11 p.m.

    It is interesting that showing images of disasters might make someone more generous. With the information in the passage I understand it. Seeing the disasters might make someone feel sad for the resources lost, and give people resources. So it is understandable. It is also strange that people feeling small would make someone generous. But, it kind of explains to us why, like the disasters.
    Critical Thinking Question Answer: We think of nature as big, because there are lots of things in nature. Everything in the world is a part of nature. So, nature is huge.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/21/2016 - 10:07 p.m.

    The people's feeling small awe nature makes more people to be more generous which the people would be feeling more generous after seeing something in awe in which people would be kinder to one another. The people might have been able to feel more generous after they had been seeing something in awe which people would be able to feel more generous after seeing something about nature. The something that people are able to see in awe is that researchers might have been able to see that people are able to feel more generous about seeing something in nature. People might have been able to feel more generous after they had been able to see something about nature which they would feel generous to another person whom they wanted to be generous to.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why do we think of nature as "big?"
    Answer: I know that we think of nature as big because as we know we feel very small but when they see something in nature, they are seeing something that is big which is nature.

  • caymanm-2-bar
    4/21/2016 - 11:34 p.m.

    We think of nature as big because their is a lot of it in the world. If people find nature to be awe inspiring, they become more generous and nice. The article states,"The researchers exposed participants to images of nature." When the people were in awe of nature, they had a more positive behavior. I thought this article was interesting because I wouldn't have thought that something cool would make people more generous.

  • sams1-ver
    4/22/2016 - 08:50 a.m.

    I kind of don't get why they named the article feel small

  • taylorh-4-bar
    4/22/2016 - 11:43 a.m.

    Nature is big because it is all around the world and we usually view nature as trees and such. I found this article interesting because it is Earth day, and I did not know these things before I read the article.

  • joeg-orv
    4/22/2016 - 12:13 p.m.

    We think of nature as big because it's always surrounding us or the building were in. You cant look through a window or walk outside without looking at nature.

  • gregorys-6-bar
    4/22/2016 - 06:39 p.m.

    Nature is big because there is so much to know about it. Whenever something has a lot of things to discover about it or has a lot of things involved with it, it is referenced as big. Cities are considered big because there is so much happening in them so hence the big. I like thinking of nature as something we must protect like a child, thus the sudden surge of generosity.

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