How to Do It
Set aside four minutes to watch the video below. Put the video in full screen mode and try to give it your full attention.
Note that this video is just one example of a visual experience that can elicit awe; there are countless others, and being exposed to them can have similar effects. The videos and other stimuli that inspire awe tend to share two key features:
- They involve a sense of vastness that puts into perspective your own relatively small place in the world. This vastness could be either physical (e.g., a panoramic view from a mountaintop) or psychological (e.g., an exceptionally courageous or heroic act of conscience).
- They alter the way you understand the world. For instance, they might make your everyday concerns seem less important, or they might expand your beliefs about the reaches of human potential.
Why You Should Try It
It’s easy to feel bogged down by daily routines and mundane concerns, stifling our sense of creativity and wonder. Feeling awe can reawaken those feelings of inspiration.
Awe is induced by experiences that challenge and expand our typical way of seeing the world, often because we sense that we’re in the presence of something greater than ourselves. Research suggests that experiencing awe improves people’s satisfaction with life, makes them feel like they have more time, makes them feel less self-conscious, and reduces their focus on trivial concerns.
But in our everyday lives, we might not regularly encounter things that fill us with awe. That’s where this practice comes in. It’s a way to infuse your day with a dose of wonder even if you can’t make it to an inspiring vista or museum.
Why It Works
Taking time out to experience awe can help people break up their routine and challenge themselves to think in new ways. Evoking feelings of awe may be especially helpful when people are feeling bogged down by day-to-day concerns. Research suggests that awe has a way of lifting people outside of their usual, more narrow sense of self and connecting them with something larger and more significant. This sense of broader connectedness and purpose can help relieve negative moods and improve happiness.
Evidence That It Works
Rudd, M., Vohs, K.D., and Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people's perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130-1136.
In three experiments, American university students were induced to feel awe—such as by watching an awe-inspiring video—as well as other emotions. People who experienced awe felt that they had more time available to themselves, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, preferred having positive experiences over material products, and reported greater life satisfaction.
Who Has Tried the Practice?
While there is no demographic information in the study above, additional studies explore how the Awe Video benefits various groups:
- European university students became more generous after watching an Awe Video, regardless of whether they were Catholic, Muslim, or non-religious.
- Ethnically diverse college students in the U.S. spent five minutes watching an Awe Video, funny video, or emotionally neutral video before playing a partner-based game. Students who watched the Awe Video were the most generous toward their game partner.
- American college students (mostly Latino or Asian) took an intelligence test and waited 10 minutes for their results. During that waiting period, students who watched an Awe Video experienced greater positive emotions and less anxiety than students who watched a neutral video on padlocks.
- American and Chinese undergraduates who spent five minutes watching a nature Awe Video felt a stronger sense of vastness in the world and reported positive changes in their social connectedness. American students saw their social network as more expansive, while Chinese students felt more closely connected with others.
- Chinese undergraduates became more tolerant of unpredictable situations and more likely to engage in thrilling, mentally beneficial activities (such as extreme skiing or waterfall kayaking) after watching an Awe Video.
- Japanese university students who completed this practice felt more awe, became more generous while playing games, and increased in tolerance toward people who violated social norms. A brain imaging study showed that Japanese individuals experienced the two key features of awe (a small sense of self and a change in worldview) when watching an Awe Video.
More research is needed to explore whether, and how, the impact of this practice extends to other groups and cultures.
Keep in Mind
Awe Videos do not necessarily have to depict earthly landscapes. Art-related videos increased awe in Americans and Italians. Videos about space, human cells, and pregnancy strengthened the spiritual beliefs and feelings of social connectedness in Christian Americans and Catholic Belgians.
However, Awe Videos of natural landscapes may be more effective than videos of man-made landscapes. Spanish adults felt more positive emotion after watching an awe-evoking slideshow of nature scenes, but not after an awe-evoking slideshow of man-made structures and cities.
When seeking out awe-inspiring videos, avoid depictions of threatening occurrences, even if they incite feelings of awe. Videos of natural disasters (such as tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, or lightning storms) have been shown to cause fear and anxiety in American, Chinese, and Japanese adults. These “negative awe” videos tend to decrease well-being and not increase happiness or generosity.
Virtual reality (VR) technology may enhance your Awe Video experience. Italian university students who watched an Awe Video through a VR headset showed stronger awe-related bodily reactions compared to those who watched on a flat screen.
The benefits of this exercise may depend on your personality. Awe Videos have been shown to be particularly effective in increasing the generosity of people who are lower on agreeableness, possibly because they are more likely to require emotional stimulation for selfless acts.
Although this exercise can improve our sense of social connection, it does not seem to make us immune to bias. American undergraduates who watched an Awe Video before a racist video reported more anti-Black attitudes than those who watched a neutral video before a racist video. Future research should examine why this interaction may occur.
Melanie Rudd, Ph.D., University of Houston
Bai, Y., Maruskin, L. A., Chen, S., Gordon, A. M., Stellar, J. E., McNeil, G. D., Peng, K., & Keltner, D. (2017). Awe, the diminished self, and collective engagement: Universals and cultural variations in the small self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(2), 185.
Chirico, A., Cipresso, P., Yaden, D. B., Biassoni, F., Riva, G., & Gaggioli, A. (2017). Effectiveness of immersive videos in inducing awe: An experimental study. Scientific Reports (Nature Publisher Group), 7, 1–11.
Chirico, A., Clewis, R. R., Yaden, D. B., & Gaggioli, A. (2021). Nature versus art as elicitors of the sublime: A virtual reality study. PLoS ONE, 16(3), 10.
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Dale, K. R., Janicke-Bowles, S., Raney, A. A., Oliver, M. B., Huse, L., Lopez, J., Reed, A., Seibert, J., & Zhao, D. (2020). Awe and stereotypes: Examining awe as an intervention against stereotypical media portrayals of African Americans. Communication Studies, 71(4), 699–707.
Gordon, A. M., Stellar, J. E., Anderson, C. L., McNeil, G. D., Loew, D., & Keltner, D. (2017). The dark side of the sublime: Distinguishing a threat-based variant of awe. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(2), 310–328.
Guan, F., Chen, J., Chen, O., Liu, L., & Zha, Y. (2019). Awe and prosocial tendency. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 38(4), 1033–1041.
Guan, F., Zhao, S., Chen, S., Lu, S., Chen, J., & Xiang, Y. (2019). The neural correlate difference between positive and negative awe. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 9.
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Lv, Y., Shi, J., Yu, F., & Zhang, C. (2021). The effect of awe on natural risk-taking preferences: The role of need for closure. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues.
Piff, P. K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D. M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 883–899.
Prade, C., & Saroglou, V. (2016). Awe’s effects on generosity and helping. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(5), 522–530.
Rankin, K., Andrews, S. E., & Sweeny, K. (2020). Awe-full uncertainty: Easing discomfort during waiting periods. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(3), 338–347.
Rivera, G. N., Vess, M., Hicks, J. A., & Routledge, C. (2020). Awe and meaning: Elucidating complex effects of awe experiences on meaning in life. European Journal of Social Psychology, 50(2), 392–405.
Sawada, K., & Nomura, M. (2020). Influence of two types of awe on attitude toward norm violation. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 148.
Takano, R., & Nomura, M. (2022). Neural representations of awe: Distinguishing common and distinct neural mechanisms. Emotion, 22(4), 669–677.
Van Cappellen, P., & Saroglou, V. (2012). Awe activates religious and spiritual feelings and behavioral intentions. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 4(3), 223–236.
Could your life be more awesome? Take our Awe Quiz to find out: