11/28/2013 10:16 am ET

Awe Boosts Belief In The Supernatural, Study Suggests

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Being in awe makes us more likely to believe in a higher being, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Southern California and Claremont McKenna College found that awe-inspiring moments seemed to boost belief in God and the supernatural. In addition, experiencing awe increased the feelings of discomfort from uncertainty -- which researchers said might explain the increased belief in the supernatural from experiencing awe.

"Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world," study researcher Piercarlo Valdesolo, a psychological scientist at Claremont McKenna College, said in a statement.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved five experiments. In one of the experiments, study participants were assigned to either watch scenes from BBC's Planet Earth, which were meant to inspire awe, or clips from a non-awe-inspiring news interview. Then, the participants were asked about the levels of awe they felt after watching the videos, as well as how much they felt that some higher being/non-human being had a role in the unfolding of life's events.

The ones who watched Planet Earth reported feeling more awe and were more likely to believe in a higher being, compared with those who watched the news clips.

In another experiment, researchers found that awe-inspiring clips seemed to promote feelings of intolerance of uncertainty. "The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes," Valdesolo said in the statement.

In addition to promoting belief in the supernatural, research has shown that awe can boost feelings of life satisfaction. That research, published last year in the same journal, also suggested that time seems to slow down when we are in awe.