Openness to experience and awe in response to nature and music: Personality and profound aesthetic experiences

Paul J. Silvia, Kirill Fayn, Emily C. Nusbaum, Roger E. Beaty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


Profound aesthetic experiences associated with awe-often described as a sense of wonder, amazement, fascination, or being moved and touched-have received less attention than milder states like pleasure, liking, and interest. Who tends to experience these powerful states? We suggest that openness to experience, although not normally seen as an emotional trait, is a propensity for awe-like experiences that stretch one's normal ways of thinking about oneself and the world. A sample of 103 adults took part in a 2-phase study that examined the role of openness to experience in 2 domains: nature and music. In the first phase, people viewed 14 images of the sky and space and rated their experience of each on items related to awe, wonder, and fascination. In the second phase, people listened to a song with qualities known to evoke awe ("Hoppípolla" by Sigur Rós) and rated their experience of it afterward. Openness to experience predicted the experience of awe for both space images (r = .48) and music (r = .35), and the experience of awe was correlated across the domains (r = .35). The other 4 factors of personality had much smaller effects, and extraversion's effects were consistently near zero, indicating that awe-like experience differs from the activated positive affectivity typical of extraversion. Overall, the results support the view of openness to experience as an essentially aesthetic trait and extend it to deeper aesthetic states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-384
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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