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GBHI Study of “Awe Walks” Featured in NY Times

A recent study led by Virginia Sturm, PhD, associate professor of neurology at University of California, San Francisco and the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), which suggests that a regular dose of awe is a simple way to boost healthy ‘prosocial’ emotions such as compassion and gratitude, was featured in the New York Times on September 30.

In the study, older adults who took weekly 15-minute “awe walks” for eight weeks reported increased positive emotions and less distress in their daily lives. This shift was reflected in “selfies” participants took on their weekly walks, in which an increasing focus on their surroundings rather than themselves was paralleled by measurably broader smiles by the end of the study.

“Negative emotions, particularly loneliness, have well-documented negative effects on the health of older adults,” said Sturm. “What we show here is that a very simple intervention – essentially a reminder to occasionally shift our energy and attention outward instead of inward – can lead to significant improvements in emotional well-being.”

A product of Impact Positive Emotion—a GBHI project focused on novel behavioral interventions to increase the experience of awe—the “awe walks” study has also been featured in Popular Science, Psychology Today, and MSN, and inspired a social media hashtag, #awewalk, which users tag images and reports of awe walks.

“Focusing on the details of the world around us can promote compassion and gratitude,” said Sturm. “I’m happy that this message seems to be resonating.”