Awe and Pro-environmental Behaviour
Astronauts who have looked down at Earth from the vantage point of the International Space Station, which is over four hundred kilometres away, tell a similar story of an intense feeling that overcomes them. Known as the “overview effect,” these individuals report feeling instantly morally invested in the plight of the planet and the suffering that pervades those dwelling on it. Astronauts then return to Earth with a newfound understanding of our place in the biosphere. The present thesis is an exploration of whether an experience of awe, similar to that felt by the astronauts on the ISS, can be an effective motivator of pro-environmental behaviour. Previous literature has posited awe as a collective emotion, one that encourages us to behave in ways that benefit our communities and enforces our sense of collective identity via a reduction in our perceived self-importance (Piff et al, 2015). The findings from this study further support awe’s status as a collective emotion. The experience of awe was seen to effectively motivate pro-environmental behaviours that had distinct social components such as environmental activism, whereas it did not motivate pro-environmental behaviours that were limited to actions carried out by the individual. As well as assessing the emotion’s capacity to motivate pro-environmental behaviours, this study tested two variations of awe against each other, namely awe experienced alongside positive emotions and awe experienced alongside negative emotions. There was no significant difference in the effectiveness of positive awe and negative awe in motivating pro-environmental behaviour. Together, the findings have implications for science communicators seeking to use targeted methods to encourage pro-environmental behaviours.
Advisor: Bering, Jesse
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Centre for Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Awe; Prosocial; Pro-environmental
Research Type: Thesis