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PLoS One. 2019 May 23;14(5):e0216780. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216780. eCollection 2019.

The proximal experience of awe.

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Department of Psychology, The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, United States of America.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, California, United States of America.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, California United States of America.


Research on awe has grown exponentially in recent decades; however, few studies have considered whether awe-inspiring experiences also inspire other emotions. In two studies, we explored whether interventions targeting awe also evoke other discrete emotions. Additionally, we considered two constructs that may be associated with increases in each emotion-self-relevant thoughts and connectedness. In Study 1, we manipulated awe in virtual reality and examined the potential effects of a prototypical awe experience-a spacewalk accompanied by an audio clip of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. In Study 2, we manipulated awe with a video depicting scenes of Earth from outer space paired with the same audio clip. Across both studies, a prototypical awe experience was associated not only with awe, but with compassion, gratitude, love, and optimism, along with connectedness and self-relevant thoughts. Furthermore, we found that increases in self-relevant thoughts and connectedness in response to the awe induction predicted increases in each emotion evoked and vice-versa. These findings suggest that experiences that are commonly considered awe-inspiring-such as viewing a picturesque landscape-may be more appropriately conceptualized more broadly as self-transcendent. More work is needed to determine whether the documented benefits of awe may be more appropriately interpreted as the benefits of self-transcendent emotions.

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