We list research in four blocks: Theory/review papers, empirical papers, books, popular press articles, and fiction/movies. Papers are listed in alphabetical order, with links to PDF files where available.

To access each sub-section, please click on the links below:







Full list of references:

  Armstrong, T., & Detweiler-Bedell, B.  (2008) Beauty as an emotion: The exhilarating prospect of mastering a challenging world, Review of General Psychology, 12, pp. 305-329. [LINK]
--The authors review recent findings in the psychology of aesthetics and argue that the recognition of beauty is more than just a cognitive process.
  Durkheim, E. (1887). Review of Guyau: L'irreligion de l'avenir. In Revue Philosophique23, 1887. Reprinted in A. Giddens (Ed.), Emile Durkheim, selected writings (1972). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
--Durkheim discusses the emotions that bind individuals to individuals and those that bind individuals to groups (awe would fall into the latter category) 
  Emerson, R.W. (1836). Nature. Reprinted in Ralph Waldo Emerson, selected essays (1982). New York: Penguin. 
--The natural world, Emerson argued, is a source of awe and self-transcendence. He also believed that in nature, one could feel the presence of the divine.
  Goodall, J. (2005). Primate Spirituality. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, 1303-306.
--Jane Goodall, the primatologist, writes about witnessing chimpanzees doing ecstatic ritualistic dances near waterfalls and during rain storms. She speculates that chimps can feel awe. 
  Haidt, J . (2000). The positive emotion of elevation. Prevention and Treatment, 3
--The previously unstudied emotion of elevation is described. Elevation appears 
to be the opposite of social disgust. It is triggered by witnessing acts of human 
moral beauty or virtue. 
  Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences. Oxford : Oxford University Press.(pp. 852-870)
--From the abstract: "Four families of moral emotions are discussed: the other-condemning family (contempt, anger, and disgust), the self-conscious family (shame, embarrassment, and guilt), the other-suffering family (compassion), and the other-praising family (gratitude and elevation). For each emotion, the elicitors and action tendencies that make it a moral emotion are discussed." 
   Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived. Washington DC : American Psychological Association. (pp. 275-289). [LINK]
--This was Haidt's first full statement on moral elevation and the positive moral emotions, like awe, gratitude, and admiration. Haidt also discusses the need for a positive psychology of morality. 
  Haidt, J. & Keltner, D . (2004). Appreciation of beauty and excellence. In C. Peterson and M. E. P. Seligman (Eds.) Character strengths and virtues. Washington DC: American Psychological Association Press. pp. 537-551.
We posit that there are three principle types of goodness for which it is beneficial to be
responsive: (i) physical beauty; (ii) skill or talent; (iii) virtue or moral goodness"
  Haidt, J., & Morris, J. P. (2009). Finding the self in self-transcendent emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 7687-7688[LINK]
--The authors comment on how self-transcendent emotions manifest themselves in the brain.
  Haidt, J., Seder, P., & Kesebir, S. (2008). Hive Psychology, Happiness, and Public Policy. Journal of Legal Studies, 37, S133-S156. [LINK]
--This paper examines three hypotheses about happiness: that people need relationships to flourish, that people need moral communities to flourish, and that people need hives to flourish. Contains a good and useful discussion of Durkheim's ideas as they relate to these three hypotheses. 
  Joye, Y. & Verpooten, J. (2013) An exploration of the functions of religious monumental architecture from a Darwinian perspective. Review of General Psychology17, 53-68. [LINK]
--This paper argues that religious monumental architecture culturally evolved to elicit awe, and in so doing, it contributed to building religious communities and creating openness to religious beliefs
  Keltner, D., & Haidt, J . (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.
--The first comprehensive review paper on awe in psychology. Keltner and Haidt present a prototype approach to awe, and suggest that two appraisals are central to the most prototypical cases: perceived vastness, and need for accommodation (i.e., the inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structures). 
  Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Cinematic elevation and cinematic admiration: Can watching movies positively impact you? Amplifier, a publication of Division 46 (Media). [LINK]
--Niemiec reviews some research indicating that elevation induced by movies leads to positive pro-social change in viewers.  
  Pargament, K.I. & Mahoney, A. (in press). Spirituality: The Search for the Sacred. In S. Lopez (Ed.) Handbook of Positive Psychology.
--Pargament discusses how the idea of the sacred adds meaning to life. The sacred can be understood in both a religious and areligious context. At its root, the search for the sacred is the search for self-transcendence, for connection to something larger.
  Shapiro, J., & Rucker, L. (2004). The Don Quixote effect: why going to the movies can help develop empathy and altruism in medical students and residents. Families, Systems, & Health, 22, 445-452.
--The authors "
argue that going to the movies can produce an emotional idealism that may help physician viewers achieve more positive attitudes of empathy and altruism." 



  Algoe, S., Haidt, J., (2009). Witnessing Excellence in Action: The other-praising emotions of elevation, admiration, and gratitude. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 105-127. [LINK]
motions such as elevation, gratitude, and admiration differ from more commonly studied forms of positive affect (joy and amusement) in many ways, and from each other in a few ways. 
  Andrew L. Thomson & Jason T. Siegel (2013): A moral act, elevation, and prosocial behavior: Moderators of morality, Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, 8:1, 50-64 [LINK]
--Under what conditions is elevation amplified? Researchers found that the 
character of the recipient of the moral deed moderates the relationship between witnessing a moral deed and experiencing elevation.
  Aquino, K., McFerran, B., & Laven, M. (2011). Moral identity and the experience of moral elevation in response to acts of uncommon goodness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 703-718. [LINK]
--Four studies show that people with strong moral identity are more susceptible to experiencing moral elevation after being exposed to acts of uncommon moral goodness. 
  Berger, J. A., & Milkman, K. L. (2009). What makes online content viral?.Available at SSRN
--An analysis of about 7,000 New York Times articles found that those that went viral were, in one way or another, awe-inspiring. 
Burton, C.M., & King, L.A. (2004). The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 150–163 [LINK]
--Most studies using the Pennebaker writing paradigm have asked participants to write about negative experiences. This is unique in looking to intensely positive experiences. Compared to the control group, the experimental group reported more positive mood and better health outcomes. 
  Cox, K. S. (2010). Elevation predicts domain-specific volunteerism 3 months later. Journal  of Positive Psychology, 5, 333-341. [LINK]
--Elevation can lead to prosocial responses in a domain linked to the context in which the elevation occurred. 
  Dachs, I., & Diessner, R. (2009). German Version of the Engagement with Beauty Scale. Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, 14(3), 87-92. 
  Diessner, R., & Burke, K. (2011). The beauty of the Psyche and Eros myth: Integrating aesthetics into Introduction to Psychology.  Journal of Aesthetic Education, 45, 97-108. [LINK]
This paper primarily outlines a curricular recipe for infusing beauty into an Introduction to Psychology course at the undergraduate collegiate level. 
  Diessner, R., Davis, L., & Toney, B. (2009). Empirical relationships between beauty and justice: Testing Scarry and elaborating Danto. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 3, 249-258. [LINK]
Elaine Scarry (1999) proposes a correspondence between engagement with beauty and a sense of justice. Scarry’s hypothesis is empirically validated. Thus, justice-minded artists need not avoid beauty, as beautiful art may increase viewers’ sensitivity to justice.
  Diessner, R., Parsons, L., Solom, R., Frost, N., & Davidson, J. (2008). Engagement with beauty: Appreciating natural, artistic and moral beauty. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 142, 303-329 [LINK]
--The authors created and validated the "engagement with beauty scale." 
They used the EBS Artistic Beauty subscale to differentiate students engaged in the arts from those who were not.
  Diessner, R., Rust, T., Solom, R., Frost, N., & Parsons, L. (2006). Beauty and hope: A moral beauty intervention. Journal of Moral Education, 35, 301-317. [LINK]
In a quasi-experimental design with college students, a moral beauty led to significantly higher scores on trait hope; the effect size was moderate.
Freeman, D., Aquino, K., & McFerran, B. (2009). Overcoming beneficiary race as an 
impediment to charitable donation: Social dominance orientation, the experience of 
moral elevation, and donation behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 72–84. [LINK]
--Experiencing moral elevation diminishes racial prejudice, leading white people to be more likely to donate money to black charities. 
  Güsewell, A., & Ruch W. (2012). Are there multiple channels through which we connect with beauty and excellence? Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 516-529. 
Results suggested a new model encompassing the two previous ones (a. appreciation of beauty and b. engagement with beauty), and distinguishing between natural beauty, artistic beauty, and non-aesthetic goodness.
  Howell, A. J., Dopko, R. L., Passmore, H.-A., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: Associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(2), 166–171. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.03.037.
--Significant associations emerged among measures of nature connectedness, a source of awe and elevation, and indices of well-being.
  Huta, V., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Pursuing pleasure or virtue: The differential and overlapping well-being benefits of hedonic and eudaimonic motives. Journal of Happiness Studies11, 735-762. [LINK
-The researchers looked at what variables were associated with the hedonic life (pleasure) and the eudaimonic life (virtue). They found, among other things, that "b
etween persons (at the trait level) and within persons (at the momentary state level), hedonic pursuits related more to positive affect and carefreeness, while eudaimonic pursuits related more to meaning; between persons, eudaimonia related more to elevating experience (awe, inspiration, and sense of connection with a greater whole..."
  Immodino-Yang, M. H., McColl, A., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. (2009). Neural correlates of admiration and compassion. PNAS, 106, 8021-8026. [LINK]
--The authors examine the activity in the brain during moments of self-transcendence and find, among other things, that the parts of the brain associated with self-regulation light up during these moments. 
  Landis, S. K., Sherman, M. F., Piedmont, R. L., Kirkhart, M. W., Rapp, E. M., & Bike, D. H. (2009). The relation between elevation and self-reported prosocial behavior: Incremental validity over the five-factor model of personality, Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 71–84. [LINK]
Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, spiritual transcendence, and self-reported prosocial behavior were all positively correlated with elevation in this study.
  Oliver, M. B., Hartmann, T. and Woolley, J. K. (2012), Elevation in Response to Entertainment Portrayals of Moral Virtue. Human Communication Research, 38: 360–378. [LINK]
Media psychologists have long puzzled over how individuals can experience enjoyment from entertainment such as tragedies that often elicit profound feelings of sadness. The present research examines the idea that a focus on “meaningful” entertainment and affective responses identified as “elevation” may provide a framework for understanding many examples of sad or dramatic entertainment. 
  Rudd, M., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. (2012). Awe Expands People's Perception of Time and Enhances Well-Being. Forthcoming in Psychological Science. [LINK]
--Experiencing awe makes people more focused on the present, expands their perception of time, and alters their decision-making in prosocial ways. 
  Saroglou, V., Buxant, C., & Tilquin, J. (2008). Positive emotions as leading to religion and spirituality. The Journal of Positive Psychology3(3), 165-173. [LINK]
--"A great deal of research has shown that a variety of negative events and emotions can increase religion and spirituality. We argue that positive events and emotions (that imply some self-transcendence) can increase religion and spirituality."
  Silvers, J., & Haidt, J. (2008). Moral Elevation Can Induce Lactation. Emotion, 8, 291-295. [LINK]
--Nursing women were brought into the lab with their babies, and those in experimental condition were induced with elevation via a video clip. The experimental group lactated more than the control group, which watched an amusing clip, and they experimental group also displayed more affectionate behaviors to their babies. These results implicate oxytocin in experiences of elevation. 
  Schnall, S., Roper, J., & Fessler, D. M. T. (2010). Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior. Psychological Science, 21, 315-320. [LINK]
--Participants experiencing elevation were more likely to volunteer for a subsequent unpaid study than were participants in a neutral state. Participants experiencing elevation spent approximately twice as long helping the experimenter with a tedious task as participants experiencing mirth or a neutral emotional state.
  Schnall, S. & Roper, J. (2011). Elevation Puts Moral Values Into Action. Social Psychological and Personality Science,  3, 373-378 [LINK]
--Upon witnessing the good acts of others, feel inferior and conclude that their own integrity is inferior? The researchers found that 
rather than posing a threat to moral self-worth, feelings of elevation can provide the motivational trigger to act on affirmed moral values.
  Shiota, Michelle N., Dacher Keltner, and Amanda Mossman. "The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept." Cognition and emotion 21, no. 5 (2007): 944-963. [LINK]
--Four studies show the information-focused nature of awe elicitors, the self-diminishing effects of the awe experience, and the effects of awe on the content of the self-concept. People who experience awe feel smaller and describe themselves in more oceanic terms.
  Thrash, T. M., & Elliot, A. J. (2003). Inspiration as a psychological construct.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology84(4), 871-889. [LINK]
--This was the first major paper to empirically show that inspiration is a psychological construct characterized by evocation, motivation, and transcendence. The authors also found that inspiration was linked to holding U.S. patents. 
  Van Cappellen, P., & Saroglou, V. (2012). Awe activates religious and spiritual feelings and behavioral intentions. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 4, 223-236. [LINK]
--Experiencing awe makes people more likely to feel and act spiritually--for instance, by choosing a spiritual vacation spot (Tibet) rather than a more hedonistic one (Haiti, pre-earthquake). 
  Van Cappellen, P., Saroglou, V., Iweins, C., Piovesana, M., & Fredrickson, B. (in press). Self-transcendent positive emotions increase spirituality through basic world assumptions. Cognition and Emotion. [LINK]
--Researchers found that 2 basic world assumptions, i.e., belief in life as meaningful (Study 1) and in the benevolence of others and the world (Study 2) mediated the effect of admiration and elevation on increased spirituality. Spirituality is understood here not only as a coping strategy, but also as an upward spiraling pathway to and from self-transcendent positive emotions.
  Vianello, M., Galliani, E. M., & Haidt, J. (2010). Elevation at work: The organizational effects of leaders’ moral excellence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 390-411 [LINK]
eaders’ interpersonal fairness and self-sacrifice are powerful elicitors of elevation, and that this emotion fully mediates leaders’ influence on followers’ organizational citizenship behavior and affective organizational commitment.



  Beardsley, M.C. (1966). Aesthetics from classical Greece to the present. New York: MacMillan.
--A review of philosophers studying beauty
  Burke, E. (1990). A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1757)
--Burke distinguishes between beauty and the sublime. The sublime can be evoked by art, literature, and nature and is very much like (perhaps indistinguishable from) the emotion of awe. 
  Danto, A.C. (2003). The abuse of beauty: Aesthetics and the concept of art. Chicago: Open Court.
--The cultural evolution of the idea of beauty, how it used to be the central purpose of art, and how it fell out of fashion among the cultural elite. 
  Darwin, C. (1872). The expression of emotions in man and animals. New York: Philosophical Library.
--Darwin discusses surprise, astonishment, and admiration, a close relative of awe and moral elevation, in chapter 12 of the book. Admiration to Darwin is a mixture of surprise, pleasure, approval, and astonishment. 
  Ehrenreich, B. (2006). Dancing in the streets: A history of collective joy. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. 
--A historical and anthropological discussion of the origins of communal celebration in the form of feasting, costuming, and dancing. See especially chapter 1, on the origins of ecstasy. 
  Etcoff, N. (2000).  Survival of the prettiest. The science of beauty.  New York: Anchor Books.
--Harvard Medical School's Nancy Etcoff on what we find beautiful and why. Also, the author discusses the biological origins of why we find beauty where we do. 
  Durkheim, E. (1995). The elementary forms of religious life. (K.E. Fields, Trans.). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1915)
--Durkheim argues that the essence of every religion is the sacred (see chapter 1, section IV) and that man is homo duplex--governed by the sacred and the profane. Durkheim also discusses the concept of "collective effervescence," the energy generated by awe-inducing group experiences (see chapter 7, section III). 
Eliade, Mircea. (1957/1959). The sacred and the profane: The nature of religion. W. R. Task (trans.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
--Though we live in an increasingly secular age, people still feel connected to the sacred. In this book, Eliade explores the concept of the sacred in nature, the cosmos, and life in general.
  Keltner, D., & Oveis, C. (2007). Elevation. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Maslow, A.H. (1965). Religions, values, and peak-experiences. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. 
--Maslow's treatise on transcendent states and the value they add to the human experience. 
  Nehamas, A. (2007). Only a promise of happiness: The place of beauty in a world of art. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
--During the twentieth century, philosophers and artists turned their noises up at beauty. In this work, the author seeks to revive beauty and restore it to its proper place in the humanities.
  Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive psychology at the movies, second edition. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe. 
--The authors explore how watching elevating movies can inspire virtue in people. 
  Sachs, J. (2002).  Aristotle.  Nicomachean ethics. Translation, glossary, and introductory essay.   Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing.
--Classic work of moral philosophy in which Aristotle discusses the highest end of man: eudaimonia. Specifically, in books II-V, Aristotle discusses moral virtue, excellence, and man's higher nature.
  Spilka, B., Hood, R.W.J., & Gorsuch, R.L. (1985). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
--See this work for a discussion of awe-induced religious conversion experiences.





  Aviv, R. (2013). There is only awe. n+1. [LINK]
-On the life and work of the psychologist Julian Jaynes: "In 1988, when Life asked Jaynes and several other thinkers to comment on the meaning of life, he responded that he had no answer. 'Words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe itself,' he said. 'Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only awe.'"
  MSNBC (USA). February 10, 2010. Why watching Oprah makes you a better person: Other people's good deeds inspire the rest of us, study suggests. [LINK]
--An article reporting on Schnall, Roper, and Fessler's study that elevation leads to altruistic behavior.
  Prinz, J. (2013). How wonder works. Aeon
--The philosophy professor Jesse Prinz writes that one emotion inspired our greatest achievements in science, art and religion. We can manipulate it – but, he asks, why do we have it?
  Smith, Z. (2012). Joy. The New York Review of Books. [LINK]
--Zadie Smith on the difference between joy and pleasure.




  Bhagavadgita (1969). (R.C. Zaehner, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.
--An episode in the Hindu epic the Mahabarata in which, at one point, the war hero Arjuna has a self-transcendent experience after the god Krishna gives him a cosmic eye and shows him the world as it really is. 
Eliot, T. S. (1943). Four quartets. Philadelphia, PA: Harvest Books. [LINK]
--T.S. Eliot's poem, in four movements, on transcendence, time, and eternity.
Martel, Yann. (2003). Life of Pi. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
--The story of a young boy castaway in the Pacific Ocean aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. It addreses themes of awe, wonder, and humanity's higher nature. 


This page is maintained by Emily Esfahani Smith. If you know of other books and papers we should list, please email emily.esfahani.smith AT