Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior
Piff, Paul K., Pia Dietze, Matthew Feinberg, Daniel M. Stancato, and Dacher Keltner, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108:6 (2015): 883-889.
ABSTRACT: Awe is an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that transcend current frames of reference. Guided by conceptual analyses of awe as a collective emotion, across 5 studies (N = 2,078) we tested the hypothesis that awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, and increase prosocial behavior. In a representative national sample (Study 1), dispositional tendencies to experience awe predicted greater generosity in an economic game above and beyond other prosocial emotions (e.g., compassion). In follow-up experiments, inductions of awe (relative to various control states) increased ethical decision-making (Study 2), generosity (Study 3), and prosocial values (Study 4). Finally, a naturalistic induction of awe in which participants stood in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement compared to participants in a control condition (Study 5). Mediational data demonstrate that the effects of awe on prosociality are explained, in part, by feelings of a small self. These findings indicate that awe may help situate individuals within broader social contexts and enhance collective concern.
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