Evidence That It Works
In one 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 to refugee families. In addition, they had greater parasympathetic nervous system activation—the system that calms us down.
In another study of 72 veterans and 52 youth from underserved communities, the experience of awe during whitewater rafting predicted improvements in well-being and stress levels, responding to statements such as “I am unable to control the important things in life” and “I am unable to cope with all the things I have to do.”
Finally, in a series of studies including 2,078 adult participants, researchers found that awe can increase prosocial behavior, ethical decision-making, generosity, and helping behavior, and reduce feelings of entitlement, partly by making us feel small amidst vastness. These findings suggest that awe may help broaden our perspective and help us to notice the needs of larger society.
Why Does It Matter?
Students can often feel overwhelmed by daily routines and worries about belonging and academic performance. Such stress has been associated with various negative outcomes, including lower academic performance, poor sleep, and decreased mental health. Reflecting on the vastness of the universe can elicit awe and help students gain a new perspective, thus making everyday stressors seem more manageable.
Furthermore, awe is considered a self-transcendent emotion (one that helps us see beyond ourselves) that can shift our attention from our own needs to the needs of others. Thus, awe can help create classroom environments in which children are more welcoming and supportive of one another.