“An awe-inducing stimulus — whether a stunning landscape, an intense religious experience, or a cloud-skimming skyscraper — gives us a sense of vastness, seeming much larger than us and the things we are used to.”
–Association for Psychological Science-
You’ve almost certainly been awe-struck by something in Northwest Colorado.
Maybe you have experienced it at Emerald Mountain Park, taking in the Yampa Valley’s sweeping open vistas as you walked through YVLT-conserved lands. Perhaps you were awe-struck by the rosy alpenglow of the day’s last light as it danced across the Valley’s snow-capped peaks. Maybe you felt this way while watching elk wander across an open meadow, or experienced it the last time you looked up and felt truly dwarfed by the starry night sky.
Year after year, season after season, the Yampa Valley finds so many ways to stoke our sense of awe and wonder.
New research suggests that we should continue to seek out these jaw-dropping life experiences, as they can positively impact not only our mental health, but our physical health as well. It turns out that awe stimulates both the body and the mind.
The Science Behind Awe – And Why We Need These Experiences in Our Lives
Awe is an undeniably powerful emotion, and it’s one that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.
But for years, awe – and how it affects us – has largely been a mystery to the scientific community. Today we are finally getting a better grasp of how it can influence the brain after recent studies examined its impact on human behavior and cognition.
While awe is a positive and captivating feeling, we experience it differently from other positive emotions. Happiness is usually accompanied by smiling, bliss, and an increased heart rate, but awe triggers a distinct and unique physiological response (raised eyebrows, jaw open, eyes wide). This suggests that awe stimulates a wholly different sector of the brain.
Researchers now know that awesome experiences can actually lead to higher brain functioning! If you are curious about the science behind it, here is a brief explanation: “[t]hese jaw-dropping, breath-taking displays of awe could help to enhance visual perception and moderate physiological arousal, thereby facilitating the complex cognitive processing induced by an awe-inspiring stimulus,” the researchers concluded (Association for Psychological Science, “All About Awe”).
Awe-inducing stimuli, like a vast open landscape or a towering mountain peak, can also contribute to our spirituality by influencing the way we perceive the world around us. “Awe may focus our attention on the here and now, but research indicates that it also prompts us to think in more self-transcendent ways, shifting our focus from inward concern to an outward sense of universality and connectedness,” the study found.
Preliminary research suggests that awe can improve physical health, as well. “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” explains UC Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltner (co-author of the study). Cytokines play a key role in boosting immune systems to repel inflammation, injury and disease.
There is still a great deal we don’t know about awe, but we do know that only certain places, environments, or objects can evoke this unique feeling. Support YVLT today and we will continue to preserve the stunning landscapes throughout Northwest Colorado that inspire and fill us with awe!