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Feelings of awe make you more generous, less Randian

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FEBRUARY 08, 2013

A lot of wish-washy, sentimental stuff has been said about the positive benefits of nature – stuff that we appreciate but often find a bit unsubstantial – but a new study gives some scientific support for that idea.

The preliminary results of a new study showed that feelings of awe can make people less self-centered and more generous. The study had subjects stare at our very own Valley Life Sciences Building and our eucalyptus grove. Those looking at our lovely trees reported more “humility, compassion and cooperation.”

In an urban environment like Berkeley, most people probably neglect to experience nature. This is why we love the fact that our school has areas dedicated to nature. It’s calming and apparently improves our willingness to cooperate.

Maybe all group projects should have a mandatory meeting in our eucalyptus grove? We could all sit in a circle, sing kumbaya and tree hug our differences away.

Or imagine corporations having their offices in a building symbiotic with nature, complete with little capuchin monkeys delivering all memos? We know our productivity would rise just by being around awesome trees all day. This is our attempt to surreptitiously convince all of those Randian leaders of industry to plant a damn tree, for once.

Of course, nature isn’t the only way to be awed, though it’s a good one. We were awed when we got our new high score in Tetris. Far from feeling humble, however, we proceeded to rub our ultimate skill in everyone’s face. So maybe there are some flaws to this idea.

There is something to be said about why the study compared an artificial structure to a natural one. Admittedly, both are impressive, but it’s something about the natural world that really puts things into perspective. Yes, the VLSB is a big and beautiful piece of architecture, but forests are the result of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, complex and interdependent systems at the limit of our comprehension and forces far greater than what we could achieve.

We consider nature as a mother – maybe it a kind of parental love of the natural world that makes us feel connected and less self-centered?

Image source: B@ni under Creative Commons

Contact Erik Swan at 


FEBRUARY 08, 2013