Saturday, May 14, 2016

Watch This Toddler With Autism Fall in Love With Snow White

This toddler may be too shy to interact with anyone, but who wouldn’t go starry-eyed for Snow White?

While at Disney World with his family, two-year-old Jack-Jack refused to look at Mary Poppins and declined a friendship with Buzz Lightyear, but when he saw the fairest of them all, it was love at first sight.

Two weeks after going on the vacation, Jack-Jack was diagnosed with nonverbal autism, meaning he’s usually as mute as Ariel – but that doesn’t stop him from re-watching this special moment with the raven-haired Disney princess over and over again.


Walgreens Now Provides Free Online Mental Illness Tests

Susan Scutti

A sense of community beats in most hearts, no matter whether we work for ourselves, for a mom-and-pop company, or for some behemoth organization… like Walgreens. One of the nation's largest drugstore chains, Walgreens operates a total of 8,173 drugstores as well as an additional 400 healthcare clinics throughout the 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Each day, more than 8 million customers interact with Walgreens, giving this chain store a unique opportunity to influence countless lives in a positive way.

Walgreens made a step toward fulfilling grander dreams by launching a new mental health platform on Wednesday. Collaborating with partners, the drugstore chain intends to help meet the need for access to care though online services. The company website connects customers to free online screenings for a number of conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, and facilitates follow-up treatment through local providers and specialists.

Though cynics may question Walgreens’ intention — is the sole intention to increase medication sales? — it is crucial to remember the services offered are voluntary and treatments for mental illness do not necessarily include medication; in fact, exercise has been found to alleviate depression. Given a diagnosis, treatment options remain in a patient’s hands.

Why Get Help?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 25 percent of American adults have a mental illness and nearly half of all adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. Yet, both patients and the mental health system face barriers and challenges and as a result, health authorities also estimate that most people don’t seek treatment. Just like some physical illnesses, certain mental pains may ease and subside over time.

Yet even in circumstances when that happens (and definitely when that does not happen), a person may want to get help in order to more quickly smooth past what may be either a bump in the road or an impossibly steep mountain.

So why get help? Researchers say people with mental disorders are prone to having or developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, asthma, epilepsy, and even cancer. At the same time, those who are mentally ill often fail to seek out medical care and when they do get care, they often fail to follow treatment schedules or take their meds. And those with a mental illness are more likely to smoke cigarettes and abuse alcohol, which leads to unintentional injuries, including car accidents.

In other words, a mental disorder may directly affect just one person but the spiral could include others — family, friends, and even strangers simply driving down the road.

Walgreens is hoping to fill in the access gap for people, whether they know they have a mental disorder or not. Working with Breakthrough Behavioral Inc, the drugstore has begun to offer free online assessments and therapy referral service. At the same time, Walgreen pharmacists will be providing depression screenings in some states and also 24/7 secure chat services to address patients’ questions and concerns related to medications.

In fact, Walgreens has set a goal to complete three million online screenings by the end of 2017 with the help of Mental Health America, a nonprofit founded in 1909 and guided by a philosophy suggesting that mental health conditions be treated long before a patient reaches a critical point.

The Walgreens’ launch coincides with Mental Health Month observed each year in May. Earlier this year the company made the heroin and opioid overdose drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, available without a prescription at its pharmacies in select states.

New York City Businesses Cutting Trash by Half in ‘Zero Waste’ Plan

Led by more than 30 corporations and the mayor’s office, New York City is making progress on its goal to reduce the city’s waste output by 90 percent in the next decade and a half.

Already this year, Whole Foods, the ABC network, and Anheuser-Busch, have pledged to cut in half the trash they send to landfills by June, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said.

The ambitious “Zero Waste Challenge” is focusing on increased recycling, reduced packaging and composting to meet its goal by 2030.

Businesses joining the challenge include huge sports arenas those used by the New York Mets baseball team and the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, as well as luxury hotels and high-end restaurants like The Waldorf Astoria and Le Bernardin, according to a Reuters report.

The amount of waste produced by the city has fallen 14 percent since 2005 due to recycling habits strengthened during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term.

Participants in the challenge, which began in February, have already slashed 60 percent of their waste, on average, using strategies such as offering coffee mugs instead of paper cups and switching from paperwork to digital file storage, de Blasio said. Nearly 13,000 tons of trash have been diverted from landfills so far.

Photo by Damien Gadal, CC

German Shepherd Rescues Troops Pinned Down by ISIS Fighters

When British special forces troops and an American K-9 team were pinned down by ISIS fighters, a heroic German shepherd came to the rescue.

It’s believed to be the first time a military working dog has directly saved British lives in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The British troops and an American soldier with his dog were returning to base after a 10-day training session for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The small band of soldiers were ambushed by about 50 ISIS fighters.

The troops say the shepherd could sense their tension and was growing increasingly protective of its “pack.” As the dog became more and more restless, the handler finally set him loose.

“When the dog was unleashed it went after the greatest threat without consideration for its own safety,” an unnamed military source told The Sun.

The dog immediately raced toward two different ISIS fighters, frightening them so much, they turned and ran, leaving the German shepherd unharmed and trotting back to his handler, tail wagging.

His heroic charge gave the troops time until allied air support arrive, ending the battle for good.

How to Talk with Teens about Purpose

By Jill Suttie 

A Q&A with Kendall Bronk about instilling purpose in teens—and the emerging research showing why it's so important.

Many psychologists are worried that kids today are falling through the cracks at their schools. Unmotivated to learn or bored with their classes or both, many are simply going through the motions or dropping out of school altogether. Some suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety, or act out their frustrations in unhealthy ways—like using drugs and alcohol, or turning to criminal behavior.
But there may be a way to help address this problem: encouraging kids to search for a purpose in life. According to Kendall Bronk, a researcher at Claremont Graduate University who studies how purpose impacts wellbeing throughout the lifespan, young people are hungry for purpose—and without it, they tend to be uninterested in school and more prone to psychological issues down the road. Contrarily, those with purpose look forward to greater wellbeing.
Bronk defines purpose as having a goal in life that you care deeply about and that contributes to the world beyond yourself in some productive sense. In some cases, she has found that all it takes to get young people started down a path of purpose is to engage them in deep, probing conversations, which prompt them to reflect on their interests and values.
I spoke to Bronk recently about her work in this area and how it might apply to teens and other young people.
Jill Suttie: When are teens ready to pursue a purpose in their lives?

Kendall Bronk: When we think about adolescence, there seems to be a developmental progression around the growth of purpose. So, for middle schoolers, it’s not surprising that they are unlikely to have identified a purpose in life. More likely their search is going to happen down the road. During the adolescent high school years, maybe about one in five has found a purpose in life, meaning that they really do know where they’re headed and what they want to accomplish. By the time you get into the college years, it’s more like one in three, and even more are searching for a purpose.
JS: What does the research show about how the search for purpose or having a purpose in life connects to well-being or depression?
KB: Well, we did one study where we looked at the search for purpose and having identified a purpose in life and what that experience was like over different ages in the lifespan. What we found was people in high school, college, and midlife who’d identified a purpose in life—they felt they had a direction and they were working toward achieving it—their age didn’t matter; they reported having very high levels of wellbeing.
The search for purpose was a little more complicated. Among adolescents and emerging adults—meaning 18-25 year olds—we found that the search for purpose was associated with wellbeing; but by midlife, it no longer was.
If you think about it, this makes sense. We expect young people to be figuring out what they want to accomplish in life, so we give them space, time, and resources to consider the things that matter to them. But if they’re still working on that issue in midlife, that’s a problem.
Depressive young people tend to have low motivation and to feel hopeless. For people who are clinically depressed, everything is colored by negative feelings, and they often feel very stuck in the present. They can’t even focus on the future. And those are things that are at odds with finding a purpose in life. It can be more challenging to help these young people.
But fortunately, purpose is pretty malleable. It’s pretty easy to help young people think about purpose, and identify and even start working toward that purpose. Ideally you’d want to help young people think about purpose in life before they become depressed—you know, the best defense is a good offense. If that’s not possible, there are interventions that can help young people who are depressed to find a purpose in life, too.
JS: How do we know that having purpose is not just correlated with wellbeing rather than causing it? 
KB: We’ve seen lots of studies over the last 15 years, since research on purpose really got underway. The biggest finding that has emerged is that purpose and depression are very inversely related, and purpose and wellbeing are very much positively correlated. Now that’s correlated and not causal; but there are all kinds of studies where researchers have induced a state of purposefulness, and that has changed people’s ratings of depression and wellbeing. So that’s moving in the direction of causality.
JS: Can you tell me what a study like that would look like? How do you instill a sense of purpose in a study?
KB: In these kinds of studies, they will often have young people read about an individual who’s lived an inspiring life of purpose or read inspiring quotes about purpose, and then ask them what this makes them think about or how this resonates with their own life. After an induction like that—when they’re encouraged to think about purpose or introduced to the idea of purpose—they will rate themselves as more purposeful and also rate their wellbeing as higher.
The problem with these studies is that the effect is temporary. If you can induce a sense of purpose that quickly, you can also lose it. So I don’t think that’s the answer—to quickly try to instill a sense of purpose and then leave.
JS: What are some longer-term ways of fostering purpose for an adolescent who doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction?
KB: This is exactly what we’re working on in our lab. We conducted a study where we were doing interviews with young people about their values and interests, and it seemed that just this 45-minute discussion was serving as an intervention, at least anecdotally. So we started surveying people before and after these interviews and we found that, yes, just having kids talk about the things that matter in their lives significantly increased their reporting of purpose.
It’s important that young people think about what they enjoy doing, what they really care about.Peter Benson called these “sparks,” and just about all young people can identify their sparks. The next thing you have to help them identify is what they value—what bothers or upsets them about the world today, what they really like, what they could see improving upon—and then bringing that together by asking them, “How can you use your personal skills or strengths for addressing these problems?”
You have to start small. If you, as a young person, really care about ending homelessness, that’s a big task. So what are the ways you can start using your special skills and talents to make a difference in this area?
Having young people focus on the things for which they’re grateful can also be a springboard for figuring out how they want to give back. As young people focus on their blessings, and maybe even reach out to the people who have taken an interest in them and helped them along the way, they tend to start thinking about ways in which they can give back and help others.
It’s important to share your own purpose in life, too. Moral exemplars are great, but sometimes you try to give them the story of Gandhi or Mother Teresa, and they just go “blech.” It’s totally overwhelming. But when you hear from a parent, a teacher, a mentor, a neighbor, or a friend, “Here is what gives my life purpose or meaning,” that can seem much more amenable, proximal, and doable.
At the same time, it’s not enough. You really have to listen to young people. One of the reasons these interviews were so good at getting them to start talking about purpose and meaning is that we didn’t just ask questions, we followed up with probes, giving them a chance to really talk and reflect. It’s surprisingly rare for young people to be asked what they think of these things, especially compared to how much time they spend thinking about proximal goals, like getting an A on their test tomorrow.
One last thing: connecting young people to opportunities to act on their personally meaningful goals is critical. Young people sometimes identify big lofty goals, and if you can help them think of ways they can immediately get involved, it’s really impactful. Even if it’s about as issue like homelessness that seems huge, you can tell them about an organization that does this or that and it will connect them to a community of like-minded people and mentors who can help them find additional ways to get involved in what they care about.
JS: Do you feel that there is an ideal age or phase of adolescence when it’s best to talk with kids about purpose?
KB: I think the ideal time to broach this topic is around transitions, especially the transition out of high school or college. This is when they are naturally thinking about these things. What am I going to do with my life?
I’ve been happily surprised when we do these interviews with young people. We hear the most amazing things from them, and often they will contact us afterwards and ask, “Can you send me the tape from that interview? I love the stuff I was talking about, and I realized that I hadn’t put it into words before.” Many young people are hungry for these conversations, because they’re searching. So having someone encourage and support that search feels good, feels right.
We want young people to start searching, but we need to be careful of closure. We don’t want them to decide too early what they want to accomplish without having considered other potential ideas. It’s not our goal to help someone to figure out their purpose in life by 11.
JS: To what degree do we really need research in this area? Wouldn’t we want to foster a sense of purpose in the lives of our teens without research telling us so?
KB: I’ve spoken with hundreds of high school principals, and every one of them says this is really important. Yet so many say they don’t have time to think about this in school. If the research says that knowing what you want to accomplish in life makes you more motivated in school and helps teachers be more effective in the classroom, then that can make a case for taking the time for it.
Yes, we don’t need research to know it’s good to have purpose. I think common sense can serve as a guide. But if we can come up with some really empirically-based strategies, that would help reach more young people—especially those who don’t have access to adults that are comfortable or able to have these conversations. Clearly it’s not happening today at the rate we’d like it to be.
JS: Do you ever worry that the research on purpose will lead people to discount systemic problems affecting kids, like poor schools or parenting, poverty or income inequality?
KB: There is so little attention paid to this, and most schools do absolutely nothing about purpose. So it’s hard to imagine the point at which schools are doing too much. But I do think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no silver bullet in human development—we know this. It’s not like we’re going to find purpose and it’s all good. I suppose it’s possible that schools could move too much in this direction and we could lose sight of other important issues we need to focus on; but at this point, we are so far from that.
JS: Where do you see your own research going from here?
KB: When I give talks, I often get the question: What about the kids from economically depressed backgrounds?
If we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, young people who don’t have a place to sleep and don’t know where their next meal is going to come from aren’t going to care about purpose. But, actually, I don’t think that’s true at all. We interviewed a group of young people in Colorado, many of whom had been homeless at some point in their lives, and we found really inspiring examples of purpose. In fact, I would even argue that sometimes hardship is associated with purpose, though obviously kids are not invulnerable to overwhelming challenges. But some level of challenge can help people start thinking about these things.
We need challenges to grow, and I think purpose is no exception. If young people had the support of an adult, they could use that challenge to help them to grow and think about purpose.

Daily Inspirational Quote - May 14, 2016

“Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart.”

There’s certainly a lot out there to catch our eye isn’t there? Whether it’s on TV, bill posters, social media, etc. etc., it’s impossible not to be constantly noticing what’s around us. Indeed we live in a consumer obsessed world surrounded by hype urging us to buy things we don’t really need, sign up to deals that profit other people, or promoting ways we can be more or look more like so called “celebrities”. These things are transient, they have no substance, and they’re unrealistic…… Try to look past all this and then you’ll see the true beauty that’s out there, within your grasp. The love of family, true friendships, the beauty to be found by just looking around and being aware of the miracle of nature and the animals inhabiting this wonderful world of ours. All we need to enrich our hearts and souls for the taking with no price tag attached.


Iris Grace & Thula: A Girl & Her Cat

Iris Grace Halmshaw, is an extraordinary 5-year-old British girl who was diagnosed with autism three years ago. In the first few years of her life she barely communicated. Painting proved to be an unexpected outlet, and her ethereal creations stunned not just her family, but the art world at large. "While Iris has been painting for more than 18 months now, a new friend joined her family just before Valentine's Day this year, who has helped make all the difference in her ability and desire to communicate with the outside world." This beautiful story shares more about the unexpected friendship between a gifted child artist and her cat Thula.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote - May 13, 2016

“Be with someone who brings out the best in you, not the stress in you.”

Most of the people we surround ourselves with are there because we want them to be and, indeed, actively encourage their presence in our lives. However, I know we all have, or have had, people in our lives who, just by picking up the ‘phone and hearing their voices, or anticipating a visit from them or being invited to meet with them, just makes us “antsy” and fills us with stress. Why do it to ourselves? Let’s all strive to surround ourselves with people who do bring out the best in us not the stress in us okay?


7 Lessons About Finding the Work You Were Meant to Do

"Finding your calling -- it's not passive," [StoryCorps founder Dave Isay] says. "When people have found their calling, they've made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to do the work they were meant to do.  "In other words, you don't just "find" your calling -- you have to fight for it. And it's worth the fight. "People who've found their calling have a fire about them," says Isay, the winner of the 2015 TED Prize. "They're the people who are dying to get up in the morning and go do their work." Read on as Isay shares 7 takeaways he has learned by studying people who have succeeded in the hard-won fight to find the work they love.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spending Money on Others Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

By Elizabeth Hopper 

According to a new study, pro-social spending may be as good for your blood pressure as healthy diet and exercise.

Many of us believe that the way to become happier and healthier is by spending money on ourselves. We put in extra hours at work and save up money to be able to buy the things that we believe will bring us happiness. But what if spending money on ourselves isn’t the best way to become happier? 
Past research has shown that when we spend money on others, we actually experience greater well-being than if we were to spend that money on ourselves. Could something as simple as buying a friend dinner or donating to charity improve our health, too—and if so, how?
According to a paper published this February in the journal Health Psychology, it can—and one way it works is by lowering blood pressure.
In an initial study, researchers looked at the relationship between giving money to others (or “prosocial spending”) and blood pressure, a simple measure of cardiovascular health. One hundred eighty-six adults who had been diagnosed with high blood pressure were asked to indicate how much money they spent on charities and other causes, and then followed up with two years later. By then, the participants who had initially spent the most on causes had lower blood pressure than participants who had spent less money. This association held even after accounting for the effects of income, education level, and age.
In a second study, the researchers looked at whether spending money on others could actually cause a reduction in blood pressure. On three days during a six-week study, 73 participants with high blood pressure were instructed to spend $40 given to them by the researchers. Half were told to spend the money on themselves, while the other half were told to spend the money on others. The researchers found that the participants who had spent money on others had lower blood pressure at the end of the study. Notably, this effect appeared to be as large as the benefits of healthy diet and exercise.
Why does prosocial spending have these benefits? One possibility is that it increases how socially connected we feel. Feeling closer to the people we help can enhance our relationships with others, which have a large impact on our health.
Ashley Whillans, doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the paper, says that prosocial spending may also work to reduce the negative health effects of stress. According to Whillans, future research on prosocial spending and health could investigate whether “helping others protects us from the stresses and strains of our day-to-day lives.”

How to maximize the health benefits of giving

If you are looking to spend money on others, researchers have found several ways to make sure that you get the greatest benefit from your spending.  

Whillans reports that participants appeared to benefit most when they chose to spend money on people they were close to. This accords with past research suggesting that spending money on others benefits our well-being most when it makes us feel more socially connected
Additionally, giving seems to be best for us when we freely choose to help: When we feel pressured, we’re not likely to experience the same psychological benefits. Whillans and her co-authors point out that feeling burdened can undermine cardiovascular health, so helping others may not be as beneficial if we feel pressured to do so.
When we give our money and time to others, research suggests, we end up gaining something as a result: We experience increases in health and well-being. In particular, giving to others may help strengthen our relationships and foster resilience in the face of stress. Even giving small amounts of money can be beneficial, Whillans reminds us: “It is possible to maximize the happiness and health benefits of every dollar.”

Daily Inspirational Quote - May 12, 2016

“Today is your day to let go of things that no longer serve you.”

We periodically go through our wardrobes, closets, etc. and have a good clear out of the things that we no longer want to keep because we know we will never find a need for them in the future, or they no longer bring us what they once did. If you take the time to think about it, the same can be said for certain people, places, groups in our lives can’t it? When was the last time that you had a good “clear out?” Perhaps your life would be richer and freer if you were prepared to let go of people or things that serve no useful purpose for you? Think about it.


The Woman Who Rescued Over 200 Sloths

"Monique Pool first fell in love with sloths when she took in an orphan from a rescue centre. Since then many sloths have spent time in her home on their way back to the forest -- but even she found it hard to cope when she had to rescue 200 at once. It all began in 2005 when Pool lost her dog, a mongrel called Sciolo, and called the Suriname Animal Protection Society to see if they'd found it. They hadn't, but they told her about Loesje (or Lucia), a baby three-toed sloth they didn't know how to look after. Pool offered to take it --and was instantly smitten."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How Awe Sharpens Our Brains

By Michelle Lani Shiota

According to emerging research, we're better thinkers when we're feeling awe.

More than 4.5 million people visited the Grand Canyon National Park in 2013; more than 3.5 million visited Yosemite. That same year, worldwide revenues for Cirque du Soleil, the Quebecois theatrical venture emphasizing extreme feats of acrobatics and agility, were close to $850 million. Fireworks displays, first developed in seventh-century China, are now featured in celebrations throughout the world at tremendous public expense. The Hubble telescope, which provides our most vivid images of outer space, initially cost $1.5 billion to launch—and accumulated costs of the project have been estimated at over $10 billion.

A behavioral scientist looks at these numbers and asks, Why? Why do people spend huge amounts of time, effort, and money on these apparently pointless activities? An economist might conclude that they are all an appalling waste of resources. Why are fireworks, circuses, and images of distant space experienced as so moving and meaningful, when they offer neither material nor social reward?
As a psychologist who studies human emotion, I approach the problem by asking how these stimuli make us feel, what they have in common, and what that might tell us about human nature. Panoramic views, brilliant colors in the skies, remarkable human accomplishments, great works of architecture, art, and music—they all have the power to evoke feelings of awe. Despite their differences, each of these things defies the scope of our day-to-day experience, challenging our comprehension and even our sense of reality. In contemplating them we may feel small, insignificant, and yet connected with the world around us, in touch with something greater than ourselves. Time seems to expand as we are immersed in the present moment, detached from our normal, mundane concerns.
Like many emotion scientists, I work with the assumption that emotions have adaptive functions—they evolved to influence cognition and behavior in ways that helped our ancestors survive crucial threats and take advantage of important opportunities. Fear, for instance, promotes avoidance of (and escape from) physical danger. Disgust helps us avoid contamination by dangerous foods and sick people. Love facilitates the close, interdependent relationships on which humans depend.
Does our capacity for awe serve a similarly important function? By studying the properties of awe as an emotion, we gather clues that, pieced together, may help answer this question. For example, the facial expression associated with awe is very different from the expressions of most other positive emotions; instead of a smile it includes widened eyes, raised inner eyebrows, and a relaxed, open mouth. The absence of a smile suggests that awe’s function, if it has one, is not primarily about social affiliation. Awe also has different visceral effects than other positive emotions. Most positive emotions are arousing, engaging the “fight-flight” sympathetic nervous system to help us actively pursue our goals. Awe has the opposite effect, reducing sympathetic influence on the heart and keeping us still—which suggests that awe’s function does not center on moving toward the material objects or people we desire.
So far, the clues suggest that awe’s function may lie in how it makes us think. Awe involves a sense of uncertainty that we are compelled to try to resolve. Studies from my lab, conducted in collaboration with Vladas Griskevicius and Samantha Neufeld, suggest that we deal with that uncertainty throughcareful, detail-oriented processing of information from the environment.
In one study, we encouraged participants to vividly remember a time when they felt awe, or one of several other positive emotions. We then asked them to read a “campus news article” presenting arguments in favor of a proposal to institute mandatory, comprehensive exams that seniors must pass in order to graduate. Of course, most college students are strongly opposed to this idea, so we can assume that any agreement with the proposal at the end of the study reflects successful persuasion.
For half of the participants in each emotion condition, the article included several strong arguments for the proposal, such as a quote from a corporate leader saying his company offered larger salaries to graduates of universities requiring senior exams. The other participants read several weak arguments, such as a statement from a current student that comprehensive exams were a tradition of the ancient Greeks. All participants then rated how strongly they agreed with the comprehensive exam proposal. If participants in any given emotion state are carefully evaluating the content of their news articles, then they should be persuaded by the articles with the strong arguments, but not by the articles with the weak arguments.
Participants in most positive emotion conditions, including enthusiasm, amusement, and contentment, were easily persuaded by both the strong and the weak arguments. It was as though they were thinking, “Nine arguments—sounds pretty good to me!” Previous studies had also found that positive emotions tend to promote reliance on superficial shortcuts such as this in evaluating persuasive messages.
Participants in the awe condition, however, were only persuaded by the strong arguments; those reading the weak arguments were even more skeptical than those in a neutral control condition (in which participants had vividly imagined doing their laundry). In other words, people who had just relived a personal experience of awe read the supposed news article even more carefully, and analyzed it more critically, than those in a neutral mood.
We still have a great deal to learn about awe, and only a few clues, but these and other studies support a tentative theory of its function. More than any other species on Earth, humans are profoundly dependent on knowledge. We have a unique ability to store vast amounts of information, in the form of elaborate conceptual networks that allow us to map our environment, remember the past, and predict the outcomes of future actions, all within the scope of human imagination. The emotion we call awe—our capacity for deep pleasure in facing the incredible and trying to take it all in—may reflect a basic need to understand the world in which we live. Of course, this theory generates lots of new questions, as any good theory should.
Does awe promote a state of mind where we suck up information from our environment like a sponge, with little conscious effort? Does awe disable the filters, created by our expectations, through which we usually perceive the world? Why are some people very awe-prone, and others not so much? How does awe affect our interactions with other people? Does awe tend to make us open-minded, or can the uncertainty inherent in awe sometimes make us defensive and inflexible? We are just beginning to address these questions. What we know so far suggests, however, that natural wonders, grand firework displays, jaw-dropping human abilities and great works of the arts appeal to something fine in human nature—our need to know.