Feeling of Awe Leads Man to Deep Thinking
Jonathon McPhetres of the University of Rochester and the author of a new study published in the journal Cognition & Emotion has argued that feeling awe leads to greater awareness of the things we don’t know, which in turn makes us more likely to seek out a framework to fill those gaps.
In layperson’s terms, awe can be understood as an emotion similar to surprise or curiosity, usually associated with the grandiose or the magnificent.
For McPhetres, awe comprises two central characteristics: the perception of vastness and the need for accommodation.
That is to say, when we encounter information that does not fit into our existing framework of expectations, we must change our existing schemas in order to accommodate this new information.
To test the hypothesis that awe serves as an antecedent to interest in science, McPhetres conducted four studies that manipulated the experience of a person’s sense of awe through online and virtual reality videos.
He discovered that once people were aware of a particular gap in their knowledge, that awareness led them to a greater interest in figuring out deeper frameworks to explain the gap.
So how did he measure that?
First, McPhetres subjected study participants to an awe-inducing video.
Then he offered them free tickets to either a science or an art museum.
Participants were much more likely to choose the science museum (68 percent) than the art museum (32 percent).
McPhetres said: “Clearly awe makes us realize what we don’t know about the natural world. We come to know how much we do not know, which is a privilege because most people don’t know what they don’t know.”
McPhetres is not the first to discover that awe, like other positive emotions, can broaden one’s thoughts, actions, and awareness, and lead a person to explore new skills and resources.
But he was the first to test the relationship between awe and knowledge empirically.
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