June 30, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

The Opposite of Worry Is Awe

There’s nothing better than seeing the power and beauty of nature to take your mind off your worries. Or is there?

Secular psychologists think they can discover the secrets of mental health and well-being with reference to God, the Bible, or theology of any kind. In the latest example, a UC Riverside psychologist, as reported on Medical Xpress, tried to figure out what works best to alleviate worry. We’ve all had moments of intense worry about something, like when waiting for test results. Dr Kate Sweeney thought that the scientific method would uncover the secret for best alleviation of worry.

Her solution was awe-ful: help patients by arousing feelings of awe. Awe is defined as “a state of wonder, a transportive mindset brought on by beautiful music, or a deeply affecting film.” How any humans achieved that state before films were invented was not addressed. Here’s what Sweeney did:

The research drew from two studies, for a total of 729 participants. In the first test, participants took a faux intelligence assessment. In the second test, participants believed they were awaiting feedback on how other study participants perceived them.

In both cases, they watched one of three movies that inspired varying levels of awe. The first was an “awe induction” video, a high-definition video of a sunrise with instrumental music. The second was a positive control video meant to elicit happy feelings, but not awe. The video was of cute animal couples. The third was a neutral video. In this case, about how padlocks are made.

Researchers found that those exposed to the awe-induction video experienced significantly greater positive emotion and less anxiety during the period waiting for IQ test results and peer assessments.

The nature video is actually quite awe-inspiring: see it on YouTube here. It should not be surprising that it beat out the other two films.

Sweeny said the research can be used to devise strategies for maximizing positive emotion and minimizing anxiety during the most taxing periods of waiting. Because the concept of awe has only received recent attention in psychology, the research also is the first to stress its beneficial effects during stressful waiting periods, opening new opportunities for study.

“Now that we know we can make people feel better through brief awe experiences while they’re waiting in the lab, we can take this knowledge out into the real world to see if people feel less stressed when they watch “Planet Earth” or go to an observatory, for example, while they’re suffering through a difficult waiting period,” Sweeny said.

This experiment actually did help the participants, but several questions come up. Is it ethical to lie to participants, and to create artificial worries and then use the people like lab rats? Are the definitions of terms and the criteria for measurement subjective? Are the psychologists ignoring factors that could really be responsible for the change in attitudes? And more worrisome, could other psychologists use similar deceptive “strategies” to manipulate people in less beneficial ways? Do the psychologists have a Yoda Complex?

By defining awe as some wishy-washy emotion that can be manipulated, the psychologists created fake awe. Humans are wired for awe, but fake awe is like the twitch of a frog leg when touched with an electric probe. It’s not the kind of response that can change a person’s heart and re-orient them for a lifetime of peace.

We love awe at CEH, and frequently report about awesome wonders in creation. But to really get a grip on awe, you have to know the awesomeness of God. Nature scenes are awesome not because they happened by chance and we evolved to wonder at them, but because they were created by the God of wonders. Studying His handiwork reduces worry because it gets our sinful, ungrateful minds off of ourselves for awhile.

The one who created the body and the mind, and our world, knows better than any psychologist what we need for peace. First, we need to repent and accept His forgiveness for our sins, paid for by Jesus Christ. Then, with renewed minds growing in knowledge of Him by studying His word, we need to become trained in gratitude. Thankfulness grows as we consider the mighty power and wisdom of our Maker. Psalm 33:8 gives better advice than any psychologist: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.”


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