Could a collective experience of awe help societies to deal with difficult situations like the current pandemic better? In their recently published paper in the science journal Emotion two researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, state that “awe may lead to uncertainty and ambivalence regarding one’s attitudes, a form of epistemological humility,” and therefore promote “reduced dogmatism and increased perceptions of social cohesion.”
One of the researchers’ methods: They let their study’s participants watch impressive nature documentaries, before they asked them about their stance on controversial topics like racism or death penalty, and compared the outcome with a control group.
Access to the paper can be purchased for 14,95 USD, but a German language newspaper article by science journalist Sebastian Herrmann reports on it for free (Süddeutsche Zeitung, February 14, 2021).
Unluckily, for most scientific disciplines things are not so simple. Herrmann points out correctly that even the ultrafast development of vaccines against the Coronavirus was not able to inspire collective awe – just because there are no touching pictures.