Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students

Summary

Awe is a mechanism — above and beyond other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being

Researchers conducted two separate studies to test the idea that nature promotes well-being through awe. Previous research shows that contact with nature can reduce stress and promote well-being. Previous research also documents the power of nature to elicit awe. The current research combines these two lines of inquiry by examining the role of awe in the process of healing through contact with nature.  Awe as experienced in both extraordinary and everyday nature experiences is examined.

Study 1 focused on awe as experienced in the extraordinary activity of white water rafting.  Seventy-two military veterans and 52 youth (middle and high school students) representing a wide range of racial/cultural backgrounds and life experiences participated in either a one-day or a four-day white water rafting trip. All participants were from under-served communities. Prior to their rafting experience, participants completed a well-being assessment.  At the end of each rafting day, they completed a rafting diary. For participants on the one-day trip (77.4% of the sample), this meant completing the diary once; for those on the four-day trip, this meant completing the dairy four times. For each diary entry, participants were asked to report the extent to which they experienced six different positive emotions (awe, gratitude, amusement, pride, contentment, and joy) during the day. Participants were also asked to complete follow-up well-being measures one week after the rafting trips. Results of Study 1 support the research hypothesis: Awe reported during the rafting trip was related to changes in well-being and stress-related symptoms one week later to a greater extent than the other assessed positive emotions (amusement, contentment, gratitude, joy, and pride).

Study 2 extended the findings of Study 1 by examining the link between nature experience, awe, and well-being in the context of people’s everyday lives. Over 100 undergraduate students participated in this study, which also used a diary methodology. Every night, over a period of 14 consecutive days, participants completed a diary survey delivered by e-mail. The diary survey included Likert-type questions focusing on emotions, social experiences, and thoughts participants experienced during the day. The survey also included an open-ended section in which participants were asked to write about an experience of awe they had that day or about the most positive event of the day. Participants also completed well-being assessments before and after the 14-day diary period. Findings indicated that “the more nature experiences people had over the 14-day diary period, the more daily awe they experienced, the greater daily life satisfaction they reported, which in turn was related to greater improvements in longitudinal well-being at follow-up.”  Findings also showed that “awe, above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions, was related with daily life satisfaction.”

These two studies indicate that awe is a mechanism — above and beyond the effects of other positive emotions — by which nature experience enhances human well-being.

Citation

Anderson, C. L., Monroy, M., Keltner, D., (2018). Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students. Emotion

DOI

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000442

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