Feelings of Awe Inspire Greater Generosity, New Study Finds

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

According to a story published at PsychCentral, “People who experience feelings of awe tend to exhibit more altruistic, helpful, and positive social behaviors, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Our investigation indicates that awe, although often fleeting and hard to describe, serves a vital social function. By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others,” said lead author Paul Piff, Ph.D.,

Researchers conducted a set of 5 different experiments with over 1,500 respondents.  Each experiment was intended to examine how different awe-inspiring experiences–both positive and negative–impacted participants’ pro-social behavior (i.e., selfless actions that work for the good of others).

One surprising finding was how many types awe-inspiring situations were able to promote cooperative behavior.

In one experiment, the researchers elicited awe by showing droplets of colored water falling into a bowl of milk in slow motion. In another, they provoked a negative form of awe by using a montage of threatening natural phenomena, such as tornadoes and volcanoes. In a final experiment, the researchers induced awe by situating participants in a grove of towering eucalyptus trees.

“Across all these different elicitors of awe, we found the same sorts of effects — people felt smaller, less self-important, and behaved in a more pro-social fashion,” said Piff.

“Might awe cause people to become more invested in the greater good, giving more to charity, volunteering to help others, or doing more to lessen their impact on the environment? Our research would suggest that the answer is yes.”  READ MORE

Parenting with the Theology of the Body in Mind: What’s the Best Way to Teach Generosity?

Parenting with the Theology of the Body in mind means, at least in part, looking for ways to both model and encourage the kind of self-donative generosity that enables family life to feel like the gift it is meant to be.

In order to accomplish this, parents often give kids extra, material, rewards (privileges, stickers, etc.) for making good relationship choices like taking turns and sharing.  As we note in Parenting with Grace, anecdotal evidence suggests that these kinds of rewards can backfire by  making kids mercenary.  That is, this approach to parenting takes kids’ focus off of people and relationships and, instead,  making them focus on what they’re going to get out of being good.  That’s why we recommend more relationally-based consequences and rewards (physical affection, genuine praise, family time, etc.) as opposed to material consequences and rewards (star charts, stickers, privileges).  New research further backs up our recommendations.

Getting kids to share their toys is a never-ending battle, and compelling them to do so never seems to help. New research suggests that allowing children to make a choice to sacrifice their own toys in order to share with someone else makes them share more in the future. The new findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These experiments, conducted by psychological scientists Nadia Chernyak and Tamar Kushnir of Cornell University, suggest that sharing when given a difficult choice leads children to see themselves in a new, more beneficent light. Perceiving themselves as people who like to share makes them more likely to act in a prosocial manner in the future.

Previous research has shown that this idea — as described by the over-justification effect — explains why rewarding children for sharing can backfire. Children come to perceive themselves as people who don’t like to share since they had to be rewarded for doing so. Because they don’t view themselves as “sharers” they are less likely to share in the future.

Chernyak and Kushnir were interested in finding out whether freely chosen sacrifice might have the opposite effect on kids’ willingness to share.

“Making difficult choices allows children to infer something important about themselves: In making choices that aren’t necessarily easy, children might be able to infer their own prosociality.”  MORE

And Check Out These Resources for Healthy Relational Discipline Techniques:  Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids