Awe experiences associated with feelings of self-smallness lead to feeling more threatened
Experiences of awe can be perceived at times as threatening, while at other times awe can be experienced as less-threatening, even pleasant. This contrasting relationship may be partly explained by the effect that awe experiences have on feelings of self-expansion (i.e., feeling smaller or larger). In the present study, we hypothesized that awe is more threatening when feelings of self-diminishment (i.e., feel smaller) emerge and less threatening when feelings of self-expansion (i.e., feeling larger) emerge. Participants (N = 220) wrote about experiences of awe or happiness (i.e., control). Feelings of self-expansion (i.e., smaller or larger) and threat were assessed. Consistent with the hypothesis, the degree to which an awe experience (vs. control) led to greater feelings of threat was moderated by participant’s feelings of self-expansion. When participants in the awe condition felt smaller (i.e., decreased self-expansion), they experienced greater threat, and conversely, when participants felt larger (i.e., increased self-expansion), they experienced less threat. The findings provide initial evidence demonstrating a potentially important relationship between awe and self-expansion (i.e., feeling smaller or larger) that may influence the degree to which people experience feelings of threat following an awe experience; our findings conceptually expand and contribute to the literature examining the effect of awe experiences.