Awe as a Social Emotion: An Overview of Insights from Social Neuroscience and Self-categorisation Theory

Anastasia Ejova
2019 e-Rhizome  
Awe tends to be defined as an emotion characterised by a perception of vastness that challenges or negates existing concepts of the world, creating a "need for accommodation". Emerging research on linguistic labels for awe-like experiences suggests that, while there is no universal word for disorienting experiences of vastness, there is cross-cultural recognition of encountering forces superior to oneself. Under the theory of constructed emotion in social neuroscience, the experience of
more » ... ring a force greater than oneself results in behaviour that serves group interests when those interests are part of the perceiver's concept of the vast stimulus. I argue that this is true in most cases, since awe-inspiring charismatic leaders, historical artefacts, and elaborate ceremonies directly represent group interests. Meanwhile, vast natural scenes encourage individuals to conceive of themselves in more superordinate terms (e.g., as human) within the scene. If experiences of awe-inspiring ceremonies, leaders, historical artefacts and natural features have a prosocial component that encourages consideration of group-level interests, it is possible that the "need for accommodation" component of awe is, in many cases, a social process. Within the framework of self-categorisation theory, it might be a process of adopting the identity of a group that is broader than family-based and friendship-based groups that one typically identifies with.
doi:10.5507/rh.2019.009 fatcat:lcwtwwwv3famphkog2efrvdhru