Ostafin, B: Encountering the numinous: Using qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the influence of awe inductions on meaning, forgiveness, dehumanization, and ego-transcendence


Brian Ostafin


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Jung’s statement that “…the main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis but rather with the approach to the numinous” illustrates the long-held importance of religious experience to analytical psychology. Numinous experience – i.e., powerful vastness that elicits the emotion of awe – has the potential to radically alter the individual’s life-world, shifting from ego-centered to wider modes of engagement. This research examines the possibility of such transformation.

Study 1 examined whether a film awe induction elicits awe-related responses, including a sense of ineffability, ego-transcendence, and an experience of the divine. Study 2 examined the influence of awe on meaning-related variables, including a sense that life is meaningful, that the world is alive and aware, and the tendency to find pattern in randomness. Study 3 examined potential mechanisms of the relation between awe on meaning. Specifically, this study examined mechanisms of (a) an intuitive (non-rational) cognitive style and (b) metaphoricity – the extent to which participants are moved by and connected to existential metaphors. The last two studies examined the influence of awe on responses to out-group members – i.e., forgiveness of the perpetrator of an interpersonal traumatic event in Study 4 and dehumanization of a stigmatized group (homeless alcoholics) in Study 5. Participants briefly described their video-related experiences in all studies. A qualitative analysis of these reports will be presented to help illuminate research into the role of the numinous/awe in intra- and interpersonal well-being.

Presenter Bio:

Brian Ostafin, PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychopathology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. My educational background consists of a bachelors (University of North Dakota) and masters (Harvard University) degree in religious studies, with an emphasis on the psychology of religion, and a PhD in clinical psychology (Boston University). My current position mainly consists of research and teaching, though I have some small clinically-related activities. My research programs revolve around the following topics: 1) life meaning, including the development of interventions that facilitate productive connection with ‘true-self’ values and understanding the psychological mechanisms through which meaning is inversely related with psychopathology, 2) mindfulness meditation, with a focus on how mindfulness can help to circumvent automatic, habitual emotional and cognitive processes involved in psychopathology, and 3) religious/spiritual experience, including how such experience helps to elicit ego-transcendence and concomitant benefits.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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