Want to Be a Little More Generous? Experience Awe

Did you know that all it takes for you to want to do something for someone else is to feel awe?

That’s according to a new study, as reported by newswise.com.  Awe can inspire altruism.

Say what?  

Inducing a sense of awe in people can promote altruistic, helpful and positive social behavior according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others," says Paul Piff, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

So does that mean if we go on a tour of the Grand Canyon, we'll want to pay for dinner for all the others in the group?  Well, not exactly.

What is awe?  Different things to different people.  I've experienced it as a double rainbow through the window of a restaurant where I was eating with my young son (he felt it even more). Watching him, as a teenager, give a brief speech to electrical engineers.  Learn that my op eds about parenting touch many others. 

 In the study, article, over 1,500 people from across the United States were asked to complete a questionnaire that measured how predisposed they were to experience awe. The subjects were then asked to participate in a game where they were given 10 raffle tickets and had to decide how many, if any, to share with another participant who did not have any tickets. Researchers found a significant association between the tendency to experience awe and generosity, newswise says.

In another part of the study, researchers asked groups of people to watch a video or gaze at something in their environment designed to elicit awe, a neutral state or another reaction, such as pride or amusement. The participants then engaged in an activity designed to measure what psychologists call pro-social behaviors or tendencies (behavior that is positive, helpful and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship.) In every experiment, awe was significantly associated with pro-social behaviors.

Researchers said they believe that awe induces a feeling of being diminished in the presence of something greater than oneself. It is this diminished sense of self that shifts focus away from an individual's need and toward the greater good, they wrote.

Makes sense.   Sometimes illness, or another's tragedy, can do that, too.

"When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you're at the center of the world anymore," Piff says. "By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in pro-social behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others."




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