Are you in awe? Probably not… but, according to a recent article in the Sunday New York Times (“Why Do We Experience Awe? “By Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner-May 24, 2015), we should be.

According to research to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “…awe is the ultimate ‘collective emotion’”, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. “(Id.) It causes us to ‘… shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.’” (Id.) Awe “…helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.” (Id.)

To come to this conclusion, the researchers conducted one study involving 1,500 individuals throughout the United States in which these participants were asked questions to determine the extent to which they experienced awe on a regular basis. They then gave each individual 10 lottery tickets that would be entered in a drawing to win a cash prize. The researchers told each participant that he/she could keep the tickets but could, if he /she desired, share some of the tickets with another unidentified individual in the study who had not received any tickets.

The researchers found that those participants who “…reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger.” (Id.) They gave approximately 40 percent more of their tickets away than those who did not experience awe regularly. (Id.).

As a way to inspire the awe in the participants, the researchers took some of them who were near the University of California at Berkeley campus to a beautiful grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees and had them look at the trees for a minute. The researchers had other participants look at a wall of a building for a minute. The researchers then created an “accident” in which a person stumbled, dropping a handful of pens. Those who had admired the trees (and thus filled with awe) picked up more of the pens to help the other person than those who stared at the wall of a building. (Id.)

These and other experiments led the researchers to conclude that awe arouses altruism. They then asked “why”?

One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger. Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another.

[A]we deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. (Id.)

The implications for settling disputes (which IS the focus of this blog!) is enormous. If one can manage to have the parties feel more awe, than quite possibly, they will be less individualistic, more collaborative, less concerned about gratifying their self-interests and more concerned about the need of others and about the collective good.

But how to invoke this awe is the issue: The only “forest” around my office consists of the tall office buildings aka the “concrete jungle”. Perhaps I should start doing mediations in the various natural parks in and around Los Angeles… or move to the Grand Canyon (truly awe inspiring!) The setting for a mediation does, indeed, make a difference.

… Just something to think about.


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