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- Jun 2022
Right? So what's happening inside your brain right now? And for thousands of years, we've been thinking and writing and experiencing awe, and we know so little about it. And so to try to understand what is it and what does it do, my Lab of Misfits had just the wonderful opportunity and the pleasure 00:08:07 to work with who are some of the greatest creators of awe that we know: the writers, the creators, the directors, the accountants, the people who are Cirque Du Soleil. And so we went to Las Vegas, and we recorded the brain activity of people while they're watching the performance, over 10 performances of "O," which is iconic Cirque performance. 00:08:34 And we also measured the behavior before the performance, as well as a different group after the performance. And so we had over 200 people involved. So what is awe? What is happening inside your brain right now? It's a brain state. OK? The front part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for your executive function, your attentional control, is now being downregulated. 00:09:02 The part of your brain called the DMN, default mode network, which is the interaction between multiple areas in your brain, which is active during, sort of, ideation, creative thinking in terms of divergent thinking and daydreaming, is now being upregulated. And right about now, the activity in your prefrontal cortex is changing. It's becoming asymmetrical in its activity, 00:09:28 biased towards the right, which is highly correlated when people step forward into the world, as opposed to step back. In fact, the activity across the brains of all these people was so correlated that we're able to train an artificial neural network to predict whether or not people are experiencing awe to an accuracy of 75 percent on average, with a maximum of 83 percent. So what does this brain state do? 00:09:58 Well, others have demonstrated, for instance, Professors Haidt and Keltner, have told us that people feel small but connected to the world. And their prosocial behavior increases, because they feel an increased affinity towards others. And we've also shown in this study that people have less need for cognitive control. They're more comfortable with uncertainty without having closure. 00:10:26 And their appetite for risk also increases. They actually seek risk, and they are better able at taking it. And something that was really quite profound is that when we asked people, "Are you someone who has a propensity to experience awe?" They were more likely to give a positive response after the performance than they were [before]. They literally redefined themselves and their history. So, awe is possibly the perception that is bigger than us. 00:11:00 And in the words of Joseph Campbell, "Awe is what enables us to move forward." Or in the words of a dear friend, probably one of our greatest photographers, still living photographers, Duane Michaels, he said to me just the other day that maybe it gives us the curiosity to overcome our cowardice.
Scientific research demonstrating the beneficial impacts of being in a state of awe.