Awesome implications : enhancing meaning in life through awe experiences
Hoeldtke, Russell Thomas.
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Research has consistently demonstrated that perceptions of life's meaningfulness are positively linked to psychological health and well-being. Further, studies have revealed the critical role positive mood and emotional states play in heightening perceptions of meaning. Building from this work, my thesis explored whether emotional experiences of awe uniquely impact meaning in life. Though recent investigations involving awe offer theoretical reasons why awe might affect meaning, no published research has specifically tested this relationship. I hypothesized that an awe-eliciting nature video, relative to a neutral video, would enhance meaning both directly and indirectly via increased perceptions of social connectedness and spiritual-transcendence. Further, since research has demonstrated a connection between positive affect and my dependent measures, I hypothesized that these awe effects would arise when controlling for positive affect (e.g., happiness). I tested my hypotheses through an online study using previously validated methods. Though the manipulation elicited differences in self-reported awe, it did not significantly alter my dependent variables. However, when I statistically controlled for self-reported happiness, the awe manipulation decreased ratings of meaning in life directly and indirectly via decreased social connectedness. As such, I discuss how complexities in the experience of awe and specific dispositional traits may account for these findings, and outline possible future directions.