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A Recent Study Shows What Awe Looks Like in the Brain & How it Promotes a Flow State



Awe is an overwhelming yet positive emotion experienced by many. It stems the roots of religious devotion, great scientific achievements, magnificent works of art, and more.

Nature, art, music, and connection—these are just a few examples of awe-inspiring moments. Perhaps it’s that glorious meteor show you watched last night or the incredible sunset that stopped you in your tracks. Maybe it was the breathless captivation of a wonderful work of art that took you to another place.

Awe expands our feeling of connection while bringing time and space to a sudden halt. It is a connection like no other. A recent study shows what awe looks like in the brain and it highlights how our minds respond to natural phenomena and stimuli.

Study Shows Awe-Like Experiences Make Us Feel Small Yet Connected

In this study by Michael Van Elk, a functional magnetic resonance imaging device(fMRI) was used to understand the activity of neurocognitive mechanisms during awe-induced experiences. Participants ranged from the ages of 18 to 41 years old. The scientists showed the participants different video scenes of nature and awe-inspiring landscapes. At first, the participants were asked to watch the video passively without any distractions. Then they were asked to watch the video while also focusing or completing a task.

After a series of tests, they were invited to measure their experience through numerical ratings. Paired with the brain scans and personal measurements, scientists concluded absorption in awe may reduce mind-wandering tendencies.

It also showed a reduction in self-reflective thought that is often needed to complete or engage in analytical tasks. Basically, experiencing awe brings the person fully present in the moment. Similar to expressing gratitude, it rewires the brain to wander less or live in the past. 

Awe Takes Us Away from Self-Induced Stress and Increases Feelings of One-ness

Van Elk’s study as well as others produced a string of conclusions that provide further insights to help humanity exist at a level of peace and in a flow state. For instance, fully immersing the senses in natural landscapes promotes an increased experience in the present moment. Those in awe-induced moments express feeling less worried about their own personal stresses and connect with a higher sense of purpose. Just think about the last time you saw a shooting star or when you looked into a newborn’s eyes. How might adding more of these moments into your daily life benefit your connection with yourself, others, and the planet?

On an individual level, this can bring many out of their heads. On a global level, this could mean a greater awareness for looking after the environment and well-being of the planet. 


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