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Journal Article

The awe-prosociality relationship: evidence for the role of context


Gray,  Russell D.
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Ejova, A., Krátký, J., Klocová, E. K., Kundt, R., Cigán, J., Kotherová, S., et al. (2021). The awe-prosociality relationship: evidence for the role of context. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 11(3): 1940254, pp. 294-311. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2021.1940254.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-CDDF-7
People in a state of awe have been found to perceive their needs as small while also expressing intentions to act in a prosocial way, benefitting others at personal cost. However, these findings come largely out of the USA and have focused on intended rather than real prosocial behavior. We propose a contextual model of the awe-prosociality relationship predicated on the constructed theory of emotion, according to which emotion categories and cost–benefit analyses of possible subsequent actions differ across cultures and in line with enduring individual differences. To test the model, we conducted a laboratory study (N = 143) examining whether costly volunteering behavior is higher amid awe in the Czech Republic, a country where social psychological studies have often produced different results compared to the USA. Awe-inspiring and neutral primes were validated in pilot studies (N = 229). As is possible under the contextual model, awe-inspiring primes elicited not more, but less, prosocial behavior, with the relationship being moderated by various facets of Openness to Experience. Individuals higher in the Feelings facet of Openness were also found to be more awe-prone. A call is made for a cross-cultural investigation of the awe-behavior relationship that accounts for complex phylogenetic relationships between cultures.