Researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley are looking into the physical, mental and emotional benefits of cultivating awe in both adults and children. In their paper, The Science of Awe, they explore benefits that link awe to transformative change, wellbeing, reasoning, prosocial behavior and even reduced inflammation.
The research also delves into what kind of experiences best elicit awe. Spiritual experiences and nature both top the list, but even a sense of awe in others or self is beneficial. Many experiences are defined as awe inspiring not just by personal preference but culturally as well.
For example, the paper states, “Awe elicitors among people in the United States (a more individualistic culture) than among people from China (a more collectivist culture), whereas feeling in awe of another person was more commonly reported by people from China.”
The study summarizes the effects of experiencing awe in this way: “Awe experiences may bring with them a host of physiological, psychological, and social effects. For example, studies have found that feelings of awe can be accompanied by heart rate changes, “goosebumps,” and the sensation of chills, and there is some evidence that awe may even decrease markers of chronic inflammation. When it comes to psychological effects, studies have found that awe can create a diminished sense of self (an effect known as “the small self”), give people the sense that they have more available time, increase feelings of connectedness, increase critical thinking and skepticism, increase positive mood, and decrease materialism. Multiple studies have found evidence that experiencing awe makes people more kind and generous.”