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A Review of the Biological Reason Why Humans Feel Awestruck

As an educational content writer with a Master of Science degree, I write about my philosophical studies of social sciences and humanities.

Why Humans Become Awestruck

Why Humans Become Awestruck

The euphoric feeling of being awestruck may have evolved to give us a biological advantage to conquer the world. I'll review the definition of awe, the things that bring it on in our thoughts, and how awesome feelings impacted our lives.

Scientists have studied why humans become awestruck and concluded that it assures the ongoing survival of humans by providing a biological advantage to conquer the world. But there is so much more to consider. Let's begin with its definition.

What Is the Definition of Awe

Awe is the feeling of experiencing something amazing beyond our common perception or expectations.

We are struck with awe when we stumble upon something exceptional that's incredibly amazing. It gives us an incredible feeling of astonishment.

Awe is an emotion that we experience when we see utter beauty or try to understand something that overwhelms our comprehension. We need to be awestruck to make us humble enough to engage with others.

How Do You Describe the Feeling of Awe?

Think about the last time you stared up at the night sky, observing all the stars. Have you felt that euphoric feeling of awe as you thought about the vastness of the Universe? That sometimes brings a feeling of pleasure to the senses. What emotions did you experience?

Anything unusual or magnificent can strike us with intense feelings and emotions. It makes us wonder about things with a curiosity that encourages us to investigate further.

We may be amazed, astonished, shocked, stunned, surprised, or stupefied by any of the following:

  • We something extraordinary occurs.
  • When something unusual happens, and we don't expect it.
  • When we discover overwhelming results while researching something new.

Is Awe Essential for Health and Social Awareness?

Awe has been puzzling to psychologists and other researchers. Have humans evolved to have this feeling for some particular reason? Is it only an emotion known to humans and not a feeling that other animals require?

Research at Washington University in St. Louis has concluded that simple everyday experiences of awe can positively affect our well-being, such as noticing the beauty of nature or catching a rainbow.1

In another study by the American Psychological Association, it has been determined that the feeling of awe makes one feel smaller and more humble concerning the overall world. That causes people to be more inclined to share with others. That could be a way to help with the growth of society.2

Other animals also function on a social level to assure the species' ongoing survival. However, that might be more of an instinct. For humans, it's a biological advantage that helps with survival.

What Is the Biological Advantage of Feeling Awestruck?

As humans have evolved, fear has caused us to avoid dangerous situations, thereby assuring humans' continued evolution.

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Anger has also been linked to evolution. It promotes an emotion that either gives one the strength to fight or the need to get away from a troubling situation.

A study at Stanford University in 2012 found that the feeling of awe is clinically good for us. The study concluded that it expands our perception of time, increases compassion and empathy, and leaves us with a feeling of well-being.3

The euphoric sense of awe may have developed through human evolution to give us the ability to conquer the world. Besides just having the pleasure of these wonderful experiences, the ability to feel awe brings on something else: The desire to research and find answers to puzzling questions.

According to an article in the Smithsonian, the experience of being awestruck is unique to humans. It helps us conquer the planet. Jason Silva explains that awe evolved to give us the desire to do things that lead to more productivity.4

I imagine that's why we humans have so many technological advancements. On the other hand, the feeling of being awestruck does not seem to be a necessary trait for other animals. They merely survive on natural instincts.

How Have Awesome Feelings Impacted Our Lives?

Many great scientists have felt the ecstatic feeling of awe. That may have been the driving force that kept them active with their research despite numerous attempts to achieve success with something they were working on, or thinking about, for years.

Sir Isaac Newton (who lived from 1642–1727) was awestruck when he discovered the power of mathematical physics.

Landing the Discovery Rover on Mars required the use of mathematical physics. Without it, we couldn't do what we do today in the field of science, artificial intelligence, or even simulating real life with animation in movies.

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) studied mathematical physics in Russia and used it to analyze phenomena in space and time. He was awed by the calculation that it takes about two hundred million years for our sun, along with our entire solar system, to revolve around our Milky Way galaxy entirely.5

Are There Extremes to Awesome Feelings?

An awesome feeling can have two extremes, from glee to dreadful. In the late 16th century, to be “filled with awe” represented the extreme feeling of surprise and envy. It also was derived from an Old English word, “egeful,” which meant “dreadful.” 6

Mind-blowing astonishing feelings can be the result of intelligence or innocence. It can even be due to observing stupidity.

Were you ever struck with awe by something incredibly profound from a technical or scientific point of view? Then, due to your intelligence, you could understand it enough to be awed by the experience.

The feeling of awe has a quality of innocence to it too. We see that by how babies display signs of wonder with almost everything they observe because it's all new to them.

On the other hand, were you ever stunned by something stupid someone said or the ridiculous way they behaved. Were you awed by it? That's the other extreme.

Do We Lose the Ability to Feel Awe as We Grow Older?

Not all people have the ability to experience such a euphoric feeling. I've noticed that some people are oblivious to awesome experiences.

I'll give you an example. Once when I was hiking with some friends, I noticed a cloud shaped like a dog drifting across the sky. I pointed it out to someone, and he said he didn't know what I was talking about. "That's a cloud, not a dog!" he said to me.

Some people are not aware of their surroundings. Nothing strikes them with awe. How sad that is. Those who are open-minded, and seek new discoveries, have a life filled with much more pleasurable experiences.

However, as we get older, it requires much more intensity to have the same strong feelings. That is because nothing much is new to us anymore. We get so used to everything that very few things are bewildering anymore.

As we age, we need more profound discoveries to bring on that feeling of awe. But that is what keeps us alive and willing to see more of what the future holds.

To Conclude

As a human being, your awesome feelings will continue to influence your growth with the desire to seek more out of life.

It will give you the reason to explore new experiences, build new dreams, and search beyond your horizons. Enjoy the ride.

References

  1. Alia E. Dastagir. (June 7, 2021). “Awe makes us happier, healthier and humbler” - USA Today
  2. Summer Allen. (Sept 26, 2018). “Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better“ - Berkeley University
  3. Melanie Rudd, Kathleen D.Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker. (January 18, 2012). “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being” - Association for Psychological Science
  4. Colin Schultz. (July 31, 2012). "How The Feeling We Call Awe Helped Humans Conquer the Planet" - Smithsonian Magazine
  5. John Piper. (March 31,2011). "Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God" - Crossway Publishing. ISBN: 978-1433523182
  6. James A. Russell. (September 23, 2003). “Pleasure: A Special Issue of Cognition and Emotion“ - Psychology Press. ISBN: 978-1841699363

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Glenn Stok

What do you find awesome?

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 11, 2013:

Hi Nell - Wow! I have to say, that was an awesome description. You write so well, that you had me there with you. Thanks.

Nell Rose from England on April 11, 2013:

Hi Glenn, I totally understand what you mean by awe. I remember going to Kos in the Greek islands, and one day we were walking along the rocks overlooking one of the beaches. As we reached the headland, I looked down and saw the sea, sand and all the vista. I was totally awestruck. The view was amazing, the sea was a startling blue, I could see the bottom of the sea, and the colour was amazing, for one second I could have cried, it totally took my breath away, that was the first time I had been abroad for years and I had forgotten how awesome it was, nell

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on February 03, 2013:

vespawoolf - That's a very good understanding of this, to stop and smell the roses. We only have one life and it makes sense to make the best of it. Thanks for your comment.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on February 03, 2013:

I love the feeling of awe! This is a good reminder to stop and smell the roses, as they say. It makes life worth living. : )

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on October 25, 2012:

Yes, it is an intense feeling being totally there and having this feeling of newness and incredible energy. I also find it interesting this tendency for us to improve, make things better, to discover.

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