The Science of Awe

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The emotion of awe can be a bridge between science and faith. Just as worship can bring us to our knees, so can our experience of the natural world that science reveals to us. In recent years, awe has become a subject of scientific study and psychologists are beginning to understand the impact it has on us.

Here, psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt describe two aspects of awe: “First, there‚Äôs ‘perceived vastness,’ the sense of confronting something much larger than ourselves… Whether physical or conceptual, a sense of immensity is the first component of awe…. Second, awe evokes a ‘need for accommodation,’ meaning it expands the boundaries of our understanding.”

What impact do such experiences have on us? Researchers have found that “awe serves as an antidote for outsized self-importance.” Moreover, “Awe can make us more aware of how expansive the world is, imbuing us with a sense of wonder. It reminds us that we are in the presence of something majestic, whether a mountain range or a higher power.” That is, awe right-sizes our sense of self and, as a result, enables us to be more humble and understand our interconnectedness to the rest of creation.

Read the John Templeton Foundation’s summary of recent research on awe. For a deeper dive, the Greater Good Science Center produced a more comprehensive summary of awe research in 2018.

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