Peking University, November 16, 2021: Awe is a complex emotion that one experiences when faced with a massive
yet unexplainable phenomenon. In 2003, Keltner and Haidt took on a
prototype approach and suggested two elements that can be used to
conceptualise awe. This laid the foundation for the scientific
psychology research on awe. In their opinion, awe is mainly comprised of
two characteristics – perceived vastness and the need for
Past studies have found that the emotion of awe has a significant impact
on one’s self-conception. Of which, one of the most important theories
is the feeling of ‘small self’. The theory believes that the sense of
awe will shift an individual’s attention from oneself to the vaster
surroundings, which in turn makes the individual feel smaller and less
important. As a result, one will start to show humility, yearn to
establish ties with others, show pro-social behaviour and incline
towards collectivism. The theory of small self helps us to understand
the psychological and behavioural effects of awe. However, there are
limitations to this theory. For instance, if the self becomes
unimportant, what drives the individual to undergo subversive changes
after feeling awe?
Researcher Jiang Tonglin and her team from the School of Psychological
and Cognitive Sciences at Peking University took on a new perspective
and re-examined the influence of awe on self-conception. The team
carried out 14 studies, where they used different methods to stimulate a
sense of awe and adopted a variety of self-measurement techniques.
Laboratory and field research were then carried out on specifically
chosen people from collectivism and indiviualism cultures. The results
showed that the sense of awe led to individuals feeling
self-transcendence and further encouraged a pursuit of their true self.
The existence of the mediation effect is however, unaffected by the
pride and stimulation aroused in this scene. More importantly, the team
discovered that egoism caused by awe could not explain the unique impact
of awe on the pursuit of true-self through self-transcendence.
On the basis of their findings, they further studied the impact of the
self-effect of awe on prosociality. The results showed that the sense of
awe encourages individuals to become their authentic self and exhibit
prosocial behaviour. As a result, it prevents one from staying untrue to
themselves despite being in the prosocial environment, such as helping
others just for personal gains. In other words, awe does not promote
being indifferent, not having principal or consideration of self while
being prosocial. Instead, it motivates individuals to stay consistent
and true to their authentic self. This discovery urges people to
re-examine the relationship between awe and self-conception, thereby
providing a new theoretical perspective for people to understand the
positive psychological effects of awe.
The picture shows the Yamdrok Lake at Tibet that stimulated a sense of awe while conducting a field study
The article titled “Awe Motivates Authentic-Self Pursuit via
Self-Transcendence: Implications for Prosociality” by Jiang Tonglin was
published at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP).
Jiang is the first and corresponding writer of the article, while
Constantine Sedikides from England’s University of Southampton is the
second writer. This research was supported by the National Natural
Science Foundation of China (NSFC) Youth Science Fund Project.
Written by: Lee Xin Ying Rachel
Edited by: Li Wanqi
Source: PKU News (Chinese)