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Clinical Trial
, 14 (5), e0216780

The Proximal Experience of Awe

Clinical Trial

The Proximal Experience of Awe

S Katherine Nelson-Coffey et al. PLoS One.


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.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Conceptual model for indirect effects of connectedness and self-relevant thoughts on self-transcendent emotions (Study 1).
Fig 2
Fig 2. Conceptual model of indirect effects of self-transcendent emotions on self-relevant thoughts and connectedness (Study 1).

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    1. Keltner D, Haidt J. Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cogn Emot. 2003; 17:297–314. 10.1080/02699930302297 - DOI - PubMed
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Grant support

This research is based on work in part supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (Grant 1326120) and the John Templeton Foundation (Grant 58430). The funding sources had no involvement in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.