New research suggests that dispositional awe (meaning the tendency to experience awe) is linked to resilience in the face of COVID-19. The study, which has been published in Psychological Reports, found that this relationship was independent of religiosity.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant stress, uncertainty, and disruption to people’s lives. The researchers behind the new study were interested in exploring factors that could contribute to resilience in the face of such adversity. Religiosity and positive emotions, such as awe, have been associated with psychological well-being and resilience in previous research.
Given the unique nature of the pandemic and its impact on various aspects of life, the researchers sought to investigate the specific role of awe and religiosity in resilience to COVID-19.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the cognitive effects of self-transcendent positive emotions,” said study author Jeanette M. Braswell, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
“My coauthor, Eric Prichard and I wanted to do research on this area of interest, but in a way that had some real-world application. Since we were in the middle of the pandemic, resilience factors to COVID-19 stressors was a natural stage for examining the effects of awe experience.”
To conduct their study, the researchers recruited 170 participants through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) service. They ensured the quality of participants by selecting “masters” who had completed multiple MTurk studies with a high success rate. Participants were also required to be U.S. high school graduates to optimize English proficiency.
The participants were asked about their gender, age, and religious affiliation. They also completed measures of dispositional awe, resilience to COVID-19, and religiosity.
The researchers found that awe was positively related to resilience, indicating that individuals who experience more awe tended to exhibit greater resilience to COVID-19. In other words, those who agreed with statements such as “I often feel awe” and “I have many opportunities to see the beauty of nature” were more likely to also agree with statements such as “I am able to adapt to change caused by the COVID-19 crisis” and “Coping with stress related to COVID-19 has strengthened me.”
“Behavioral and mental disengagement is a common coping mechanism the average person turns to in the face of uncontrollable stressors (such as a pandemic),” Braswell told PsyPost. “Our research is preliminary evidence that actively seeking experiences of awe may be not only a healthier coping mechanism but a more effective one.”
“Going for a walk in nature or choosing a documentary about the cosmos that inspires awe (instead of choosing to binge watch the Walking Dead) may be an option for coping with stress that not only helps deal with the stress in the moment, but also builds resilience for the future.”
Religiosity and awe were also positively related, but religiosity and resilience were only weakly related, suggesting a slight association between religious beliefs and greater resilience. The researchers had expected both awe and religiosity to be correlated with resilience. However, they found that only awe was significantly related to resilience when considering both variables together.
“We controlled for religiosity and when placed in the same model as awe, the relationship between resilience and religiosity disappeared,” Braswell explained. “We have some thoughts on this in the article and address some directions for future research — one of them being how awe is related to the nature of religiosity and whether non-religious awe is a significantly different experience.”
Regarding the study’s limitations, Braswell noted that “the data is correlational and relies on measures of dispositional awe so experimental studies would shed more light on experience of awe as a therapeutic technique or coping mechanism.”
“We look forward to following up on our suggestions for future research and we hope that our paper inspires other researchers to do the same!”
The study, “Awe Correlates With Resilience to COVID-19 Stressors Independent of Religiosity“, was authored by Jeanette M. Braswell and Eric C. Prichard.