The other day, I got fairly decisively lost while hiking in the French Pyrénées. Not seriously lost, since I had a functioning iPhone, and was never much more than an hour’s walk from a road where, in a crisis, I could doubtless have flagged down a grudging French motorist. (Is there any other kind?) But just lost enough to feel the first frisson of something like fear: enough to be reminded that mountain ranges are very large and solid things, whereas I am a tiny and fragile thing, and that it takes a vanishingly small amount of effort on the part of a mountain range to kill a human.
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t need psychological research to convince you that you need more awe in your life: a trip to Yosemite or theSheeps Head Peninsula, or merely watching the BBC’s Planet Earth or The Cave of Forgotten Dreams ought to do the trick. But here’s some psychological research for you anyway: according to work recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which I found via Smithsonian magazine, feeling awe in the face of overwhelming natural environments is associated with more “pro-social” behaviors of generosity and kindness.
In one part of the study, participants who spent time looking upwards at high eucalyptus trees were more likely to help a researcher who had dropped some equipment than were those who looked at a building. In another, watching clips from Planet Earth triggered more altruistic attitudes. “By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self”, researcher Paul Piff was quoted as saying, “awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.”
Read the whole story: The Guardian