Awe is a fascinating emotion, associated with positive consequences such as greater prosociality, generosity, and epistemic openness. Unfortunately, in spite of the weighty consequences of awe, the exact way in which it arises, and what it entails, is still a puzzle. Particularly puzzling is the question of whether awe is the result of expectancy violation. While awe is thought to arise in reaction to expectancy-violating objects or events, classical expectancy violations (e.g., a red queen of spades playing card) do not tend to cause awe. To shed light on this problem, we distinguished two types of expectancy violations—those that disconfirm and those that exceed one’s expectancies—and we investigated whether awe is more likely to arise in reaction to one versus the other. We also looked at what appraisals constitute and are most important to the awe experience and how they structurally interact. To do this, we utilized network analysis and mapped out the network structure of appraisals linked to awe and to expectancy violations. Across two experimental studies (N = 823), we demonstrated that awe arises in reaction to exceeded (rather than disconfirmed) expectancies and that appraisals linked to exceeded expectancies (vastness and uniqueness) are central to awe, while appraisals linked to disconfirmed expectancies (uncertainty and inconsistency) are peripheral to the awe experience.
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