ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (11): 2171-2182.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.02171

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Awe's prosocial effect: the mediating role of the small self and the authentic self

ZHAO Yue, HU Xiaoyong, MA Jiaxin   

  1. Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of Education, Chongqing 400715, China
  • Received:2022-11-26 Online:2023-11-15 Published:2023-08-28

Abstract: Awe is an emotional response to vast stimuli that challenge the current frames of reference and require a new schema to accommodate. A large body of empirical studies have highlighted that awe engenders various forms of prosocial behavior. Regarding the psychological mechanisms implicated, the small-self hypothesis posits that the vastness of stimuli that evokes awe elicits feelings of self-smallness, which diverts the individual's attention away from the self and towards others, thus promoting prosocial behavior; the authentic-self hypothesis suggests that awe helps to facilitate a shift in the individual's attention from regular mundane concerns to a larger spiritual presence, which stimulates the individual's pursuit of his or her authentic self, thus promoting prosocial behavior. Though these two hypotheses present distinct viewpoints regarding the psychological mechanisms through which awe fosters prosocial behavior from the perspectives of attention and transformation, relatively. Nevertheless, the relationship between the two suppositions in the promotion of prosocial behavior via awe remains unclear. An organized theoretical framework is wanting to clarify and integrate this inquiry, which can potentially be resolved by considering the “Big Two” perspective. Based on the Big Two framework, the agentic and communal dimensions are considered as the fundamental aspects of the self. The small self, which is affiliated and submissive, is part of the communal dimension of the self-concept. On the other hand, the authentic self is seen as unique and self-determined, and is part of the agentic dimension of self. Positive awe can enhance prosocial behavior through two parallel pathways, the agentic dimension (authentic self) and the communal dimension (small self) of self. The Big Two framework is also beneficial in comprehending the recent discoveries in the field of threat-based awe. Although threat-based awe can promote prosocial behavior on the communal dimension of the self (small self), it also impedes prosocial behavior on the agentic dimension of the self (powerlessness). As opposed to the consistent findings obtained in the field of positive awe, threat-based awe produces contrasting effects on prosocial behavior.
Research in this domain will facilitate the examination of the pivotal position of emotions in relation to human sociability. Future research endeavors could develop into the following domains: primordially, scrutinizing the universality of the effects of awe on prosocial behavior, with particular emphasis on threat-based awe tinged with fear, which has elicited inconsistent and heterogeneous findings in extant research and warrant further exploration with greater depth in the future. Secondly, the prevailing hypotheses suffer from certain inadequacies. The notion of “small-self” lays emphasis on the act of shifting attention, which results in a stark dichotomy between self-directed and other-directed attention. Similarly, the “authentic-self” hypothesis warrants refinement regarding the mechanisms involved in the generation of prosocial motivation. In due course, there is a pressing need for both theoretical and empirical advancement aimed at redressing the deficiencies that currently exist. Lastly, although interventions aimed at facilitating awe have been proposed, very few initiatives target the core mechanism through which awe engenders transformation of small and authentic selves. Hence, future studies ought to construct intervention programs focused on self-transformation for this mechanism, imparting a scientific psychological insight to progress a philanthropic-based third distribution strategy.

Key words: awe, prosociality, small self, authentic self

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