Evidence That It Works
Researchers studying 557 middle school students from China found that feeling awe on a regular basis buffered the impact of greed on students’ tendency to cooperate.
In another study, researchers had 353 youth from the Netherlands ages 8-13 watch a video clip that prompted either joy, awe, or a neutral response. Those who watched the awe video showed greater prosocial behavior, donating their experimental earnings towards benefitting refugee families. In addition, they had greater parasympathetic nervous system activation—the system that calms us down.
Finally, a study of 1,064 university students from Spain and Ecuador found that inducing awe through a video increased students’ sense of common humanity and intention to engage in prosocial behavior.
Why Does It Matter?
The challenges faced by our world today are complex and vast. To even begin to understand these problems, let alone solve them, requires us to examine them through a systems lens. In other words, viewing them as one element of an interconnected “whole” that has a purpose. For example, solving climate change cannot be achieved by seeing it solely as the result of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The experience of awe opens students’ eyes to the interconnectedness of our world. Awe inspires students, making them feel connected to something larger than themselves and changing how they think about their place in the world—a powerful tool for motivation and engagement. Indeed, awe broadens students’ sense of humanity, which, in turn, motivates them to engage in more prosocial behavior, such as helping to combat climate change.