By: Eileen Marable
We’ve all the heart pounding moment. Maybe it is from a cloud formation or water spout in the ocean you’ve never seen before, hearing an astronaut tell a story of near death, seeing your child be born, or perhaps it’s show on how the universe came into being. It’s that mind-blowing, “wow” moment where you are awe-struck.
You may not think of it this way, but awe is actually an emotion. Many in science and psychology didn’t think much about it until studies were done about 10 Years ago to find out what it really meant to be awestruck and whether it was important to us as a part of our other range of emotions.
What exactly IS awe? According to researchers, awe is having a feeling you’ve seen, heard, or met someone or something much larger than your everyday experience. It stops you and makes you think. With it goes seems to go the sense of needing to pay it forward and tell someone about it. To spread the knowledge or vision gained.
This insight comes from psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt decided to try and decipher the science of awe in 2003. After asking people to make a face describing awe, it was eyes wide open and mouth dropped. It seems awe is not funny or smile producing. It’s something serious and can be triggered by seeing something positive or negative, but the one result is this emotion makes you think when you experience it and want to discuss it with others in an attempt to understand or rationalize what you’ve experienced.
Other researchers noted it’s also not necessarily a “comfortable” emotion because you are processing and thinking about something you’ve never seen or heard before and you don’t necessarily know the the outcome. Is awe the recognition of the unknown?
Another researcher, Melanie Rudd, assistant professor of the University of Houston found people described it as “timeless.” When experiencing awe time seems to stand still or not exist at all reported study subjects.<< cont. below>>
So we know awe is an emotion tied to thought, understanding and needing to understand and share something we don’t understand. A wow moment can be beautiful or terrifying, like seeing an eclipse for the first time, or a tornado starting to form. What purpose could being stopped in our tracks possibly serve?
The researchers studying awe came up with two evolutionary explanations. If you are awe-struck you may pause to think about danger, cause, and the best possible reaction. From an evolutionary level being awed and cautious may have saved us from life or death situations, allowing humankind to survive and evolve, gathering knowledge along the way.
The other explanation is the need to explain the awe inspiring experience and to involve others. In other words, at a basic level it is a way of pulling a group together to understand a phenomenon. It could be defensive and for self preservation as spreading the word about a giant tornado formation might be. Or, it could be the twinge of curiosity about something and the desire to gain knowledge for others – such as studying the movement of the heavens to define time.
Whether awe causes us to be cautious or curious, the primal outcome is the same. Being awe-struck helps us come together and continue to evolve as a species.
If the basic outcome of awe is coming together, researchers such as Rudd and Keltner continue to study how this shapes our every day behavior. It is linked to every day curiosity, listening to each other and a sense of humility, open-mindedness, and connection.
Awe is something we can see hard enough if we look everyday as well. It doesn’t have to be the large, Earth changing event. It could be visiting a new country, or learning about how something complex is made – we certainly see that in Mike North’s face as he visits the LG TV factory in Korea and gets a lesson in the new OLED technology. His curiosity for “How does this work??” is paid forward to us as he dives into questioning the LG Team.
We get “wow, so that’s how it works!” moments of learning why an OLED TV can deliver a “true black.” This new category of televisions use LEDs in them to create the true definition by being able to turning off the light in the pixels that don’t need them. It’s the absence of light, not a dimming or projection of black that makes the difference.
Seeing how thin and flexible they are is also amazing. Doc North can actually bend the screen with his hands! To think we’ve come from giant consoles using cathode tubes, to wafer-thin, see-through screens is a pretty awe-inspiring example in the evolution of technology.
LG OLED TVs have been called “perfect” for gamers and movie buffs. Why? It gets back to the awe thing. By being able to play a game that renders the virtual world with such realism and by showing movies with the beautiful, colorful pictures the directors could see in their mind is incredible. You want to play with your buddies and you want to gather your friends to enjoy a brilliant movie so you can all leave with open mouths at whatever your experience of choice was. Far from isolating us like some would claim about new technology, this one actually brings people together.
What does all this prove? That awe is an emotion that can be generated by many things. It depends on the person whether it’s a rainbow or experiencing the vastness of a modern factory. What remains the same is that we all have that twinge that stops us in our tracks, that makes us think, and perhaps build on what has excited us.
It is awe that may spur us to inhabit the Moon or Mars, and combined with curiosity it is an emotion researchers are proving should be respected and nurtured.
Enjoy some other moments of awe: