Designing Awe in Virtual Reality: An Experimental Study

Alice Chirico, Francesco Ferrise, Lorenzo Cordella, Andrea Gaggioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Awe is a little-studied emotion with a great transformative potential. Therefore, the interest toward the study of awe's underlying mechanisms has been increased. Specifically, researchers have been interested in how to reproduce intense feelings of awe within laboratory conditions. It has been proposed that the use of virtual reality (VR) could be an effective way to induce awe in controlled experimental settings, thanks to its ability of providing participants with a sense of "presence," that is, the subjective feeling of being displaced in another physical or imaginary place. However, the potential of VR as awe-inducing medium has not been fully tested yet. In the present study, we provided an evidence-based design and a validation of four immersive virtual environments (VEs) involving 36 participants in a within-subject design. Of these, three VEs were designed to induce awe, whereas the fourth VE was targeted as an emotionally neutral stimulus. Participants self-reported the extent to which they felt awe, general affect and sense of presence related to each environment. As expected, results showed that awe-VEs could induce significantly higher levels of awe and presence as compared to the neutral VE. Furthermore, these VEs induced significantly more positive than negative affect. These findings supported the potential of immersive VR for inducing awe and provide useful indications for the design of awe-inspiring virtual environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2351
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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