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Examining the Psychological Consequences of Experiencing Awe

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Title: Examining the Psychological Consequences of Experiencing Awe
Author: Dobson, Jennifer Ashlee
Department: Department of Psychology
Program: Psychology
Advisor: Newby-Clark, Ian
Abstract: “Awe” refers to the feelings of wonder and amazement experienced when encountering vast and complex situations and environments that cannot be assimilated into existing knowledge structures (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). The purpose of this dissertation was to contribute to research on the consequences of experiencing awe. In Study 1, I interviewed 19 community members about memorable experiences of awe. I conducted a thematic analysis focusing on participants’ descriptions of the consequences of experiencing awe. Participants described many benefits of experiencing awe, including helping people reinterpret negative situations as positive. In Study 2, I tested the effects awe on distress related to an ongoing personal problem and on problem-solving effectiveness. Undergraduate students (n = 180) wrote about a personal problem and then watched a video intended to elicit awe, amusement, or neutral emotions. Participants then wrote a solution to the problem and rated problem-related distress. I found an indirect effect of condition on distress such that participants in the awe condition felt less distressed about their problem and this effect was mediated by awe experienced and reflection. Participants in the awe condition also wrote longer solutions, and this effect was mediated by awe experienced and reflection. However, for task-related problems, participants in the awe condition reported higher level of problem-related distress. Thus, experiencing awe appears to be beneficial when experiencing an ongoing personal problem, but not when the problem involves a task that must be accomplished. In Study 3, I tested the effects of an intervention designed to improve well-being through the induction of awe. Undergraduate students (n = 162) were randomly assigned to the awe, amusement, or control condition. Participants watched a short target emotion-eliciting video each day for five days. One week, two weeks, and four weeks after watching the first video, participants completed a questionnaire measuring subjective well-being. Participants in the awe condition who experienced high levels of awe had greater post-intervention well-being. Overall, the results of these studies provide evidence that the experience of awe is generally beneficial.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10214/9235
Date: 2015-09
Rights: Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
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Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada