Experiencing versus contemplating: Language use during descriptions of awe and wonder

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Abstract

Awe and wonder are theorised to be distinct from other positive emotions, such as happiness. Yet little empirical or theoretical work has focused on these emotions. This investigation explored differences in language used to describe experiences of awe and wonder. Such analyses can provide insight into how people conceptualise these emotional experiences, and whether they conceptualise these emotions to be distinct from other positive emotions, and each other. Participants wrote narratives about experiences of awe, wonder and happiness. There were differences in the language used to describe these positive emotional states, consistent with the theorised functions of each emotion. Awe was related to observing the world, reflected in greater use of perception words. Wonder was related to trying to understand the world, reflected in greater use of cognitive complexity and tentative words. Language use for both emotions reflected an environmental focus, whereas language use for happiness reflected a social/relationship focus.

Publication
Cognition and Emotion

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