Experts on the science of giving look into whether there's another possible upside to doing good: physical attractiveness.
Giving is good for you.
Move over, forest bathing.
- A new study found that weekly 15-minute "awe walks" have positive effects on mental health.
- Volunteers reported higher levels of gratitude and compassion after eight weeks of these short walks.
- Researchers believe this low-cost intervention could help prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
Finding Happiness Through "Awe Walks"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0988a4421b47d7cdc45d740014a53b17"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-nVx6SriWPM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Importantly, participants were instructed to observe details while walking around the forest. If the goal was only exercise, volunteers were likely to power through trails without noticing their surroundings. This is where awe comes into the picture.</p><p>UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner <a href="https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/09/418551/awe-walks-boost-emotional-well-being" target="_blank">explains</a> the relevance, noting that feelings of awe help us feel more generous and humble, while increasing our overall well-being. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable — such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in a collective act such as a ceremony, concert or political march."</p><p>The post-walk selfie is key. Week after week, their smiles grew larger. Incredibly, their bodies shrunk in the photos—the photographer stepped back to include more of nature. Instead of the normal close-ups we associate with selfies, volunteers naturally became more integrated with their environment, without any prompting from the research team.</p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/individualism-is-spreading-and-thats-not-good" target="_self">Research</a> on individualist versus collectivist societies shows that the members of individualist societies tend to prioritize independence and autonomy. These seem like positive qualities, though higher rates of anxiety and depression are reported in such cultures. By contrast, collectivist societies emphasize interdependence, which ultimately makes members feel like they're part of a bigger landscape. </p><p>This is exactly what was reflected in those selfies. </p>
Credit: Rudmer Zwerver / Shutterstock<p>Classical Japanese art offers plenty of examples of interdependence. Humans are rarely the focal point in these landscape paintings. People only appear as part of a much larger scene. This trend cuts across Buddhist art, perhaps unsurprisingly given the philosophy stresses collectivity. Happiness levels tend to be higher in these societies than in individualist nations.</p><p>America, arguably the global leader in individualism, has <a href="https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/the-sad-state-of-happiness-in-the-united-states-and-the-role-of-digital-media/" target="_blank">continually ranked lower</a> on world happiness charts over the last 40 years. Meanwhile, our rates of Alzheimer's disease <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/alzheimers-risks" target="_self">rise</a> every year.</p><p>Can a 15-minute awe walk change all of that? Not completely, but we'll take whatever help we can get. As mythologist Joseph Campbell <a href="https://www.jcf.org/works/quote/awe-is-what-moves-us-forward/" target="_blank">once remarked</a>, "awe is what moves us forward." He cited awe as a primary driver in the creation of mythology: the overwhelming sensation that you're part of something grand. </p><p>As Sturm says, this is a low-cost, worthwhile means for alleviating distress and filling people with gratitude and compassion. Given the state of the world, those qualities are in high demand. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I find it remarkable that the simplest intervention in the world – just a three-minute conversation at the beginning of the study suggesting that participants practice feeling awe on their weekly walks – was able to drive significant shifts in their daily emotional experience. This suggests promoting the experience of awe could be an extremely low-cost tool for improving the emotional health of older adults through a simple shift in mindset." </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.
- Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
- The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
- Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
Ratings of subjective attractiveness as a function of the participant's objective attractiveness (Study 1)
Greitemeyer<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Overall, unattractive participants judged themselves to be of about average attractiveness and they showed very little awareness that strangers do not share this view. In contrast, attractive participants had more insights into how attractive they actually are. [...] It thus appears that unattractive people maintain illusory self‐perceptions of their attractiveness, whereas attractive people's self‐views are more grounded in reality."</p><p>Why do unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness? Could it be because they want to maintain a positive self-image, so they delude themselves? After all, previous <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10463283.2016.1183913" target="_blank">research</a> has shown that people tend to discredit or "forget" negative social feedback, which seems to help protect a sense of self-worth.</p>
NBC<p>To find out, Greitemeyer conducted a study that aimed to put participants in a positive, non-defensive mindset before rating attractiveness. He did that by asking participants questions that affirmed parts of their personality that had nothing to do with physical appearance, such as: "Have you ever been generous and selfless to another person?" Yet, this didn't change how participants rated themselves, suggesting that unattractive people aren't overestimating their looks out of defensiveness.</p><p>The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness. Does that bias sound familiar? If so, you might be thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency. Why? Because they lack the metacognitive skills needed to discern their own shortcomings.</p><p>Greitemeyer found that unattractive people were worse at differentiating between attractive and unattractive people. But the finding that unattractive people may have different beauty ideals (or, more plainly, weaker ability to judge attractiveness) did "not have an impact on how they perceive themselves." </p><p>In short, it remains a mystery exactly why unattractive people overestimate their looks. Greitemeyer concluded that, while most people are decent at judging the attractiveness of others, "it appears that those who are unattractive do not know that they are unattractive."</p>
Unattractive people aren't completely unaware<p>The results of one study suggested that unattractive people aren't completely in the dark about their looks. In the study, unattractive people were shown a set of photos of highly attractive and unattractive people, and they were asked to select photos of people with comparable attractiveness. Most unattractive people chose to compare themselves with similarly unattractive people.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The finding that unattractive participants selected unattractive stimulus persons with whom they would compare their attractiveness to suggests that they may have an inkling that they are less attractive than they want it to be," Greitemeyer wrote.</p>
Is the cult of youth what we really want trailing us into the afterlife?
Recently, my friend and 13.8 writing colleague Adam Frank, wrote a moving essay on the joy of finding things out. Today, and in celebration of the nearing holidays, I will consider another joyful aspect of being a human being—the joy of wondering.