Evidence That It Works
Scientists describe awe as an emotional response that is often elicited by powerful and vast stimuli that makes the person experiencing it feel small in relation to the world around them and makes them rethink how they understand the world.
Results from four studies (currently under review) conducted with a diverse group of children (ages 4-9) found that the vastness of nature (as seen in this video) elicits awe in children, to which they responded with surprise, fear, and happiness. The same studies showed that awe made participants feel they were unique and that they could improve their lives. They were also motivated to explore and to think beyond themselves (self-transcendence).
A U.K. study of children ages 7-11 examined the experiences of children doing mindfulness activities in local nature reserves. The researchers found that children reported feeling a sense of wonder and awe, along with feeling calm and relaxed after mindfully spending time in the nature reserves.
Another study conducted with a racially diverse group of 100 Southern California university students (ages 18-24) revealed that 15 minutes of solitary time in nature (vs. a man-made environment) in which the respondents were instructed to “Look at all of your surrounding features and pay attention to all of its details….Use all of your senses to take in everything around you” led to significantly greater experiences of awe and increased positive emotions such as joy.
Why Does It Matter?
The process of asking students to focus their attention on nature provides a wonderful opportunity to cultivate connectedness to nature and reduce negative emotions. Connectedness to nature has been shown to have strong positive associations with both psychological and social well-being.
Additionally, reducing students’ negative emotions has important academic and social impacts. In one study, researchers found that when students were experiencing negative emotions, they not only perceived themselves as being less academically competent, but also in fact got lower academic scores. Other research has also shown that negative emotions have a strong association with low social competence. Thus, activities that promote mindful attention, awe experiences, and connection to nature can help improve students’ academic self efficacy, social skills, as well as psychological and social well-being.