Experiencing Awe Makes People More Humble

An awareness of how vast and complex the world around us is seems to go hand-in-hand with an awareness of how small and limited we are as individuals. At least, that’s what a new study establishing a link between feelings of awe and humility suggests.

In the study, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers ran a series of experiments exploring the relationship between awe and humility.

Because psychologists know that some people are more prone to experiencing awe than others, the first pair of experiments looked at individual differences between people who are more and less prone to feelings of awe. It turned out that people who were more awe-prone were described as being more humble by their friends, and reported more feelings of humility over the course of two weeks.

The next experiments looked at whether stirring up feelings of awe in people could actually make them more humble.

Once again, some interesting results emerged. First, experiencing feelings of awe tended to make people give a more realistic assessment of their personal strengths and weaknesses compared to those of others.

Second, feeling more awed made people more readily acknowledge how much outside factors like luck contributed to their successes.

And finally, taking an expansive view of things led to people reporting more feelings of humility. The researchers found that this latter effect had to do with “self-diminishment.” In other words, feelings of both awe and humility tend to involve seeing the self as relatively small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Altogether, the findings seem to indicate that being aware of the vastness of the world around us helps us transcend our individual concerns and put things in perspective. In the words of the researchers: “these results reveal that awe offers one path to greater humility.”

Image: Flickr/Bureau of Land Management