Monday, November 25, 2013

Experiencing awe and belief in the supernatural

You know your blog has been running a long time (and that you have a good memory) when you can write: "Eight years ago I suggested..."

Well, eight years ago I suggested there may be a connection between the decline in our ability to view the awesome night sky and the decline of religion. Today I came across a piece of research that supports that idea.

A press release from the Association for Psychological Science describes a study reported in a paper in its journal Psychological Science. In the study:
participants watch awe-inspiring scenes from BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series or neutral video clips from a news interview. Afterward, the participants were asked how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god’s or other non-human entity’s plan. 
Overall, participants who had watched the awe-inspiring video tended to believe more in supernatural control, and were more likely to believe in God when compared with the news-watching group. This effect held even when awe-inspiring but impossible scenes, such as a massive waterfall through city streets, were presented. 
Another study showed that participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty. This particular mindset - a discomfort with uncertainty - may explain why feelings of awe produce a greater belief in the supernatural.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

Haven't we known for years that country dwellers are more religious than townspeople? Perhaps studies like this partially explain it? Or more likely, they record a cognitive bias.

I like Wikipedia's definition of awe: 'Awe is an emotion comparable to wonder but less joyous'. Awe requires fear. I cannot admire anything that scares me.