My Research on Self-Transcendent Emotions:
I study morality and the moral emotions, and I got interested in moral elevation because of my early work on moral disgust. In trying to figure out why people find some things morally disgusting (e.g., betraying your parents) and not others (e.g, robbing a bank), Paul Rozin, Rick McCauley and I came up with a theory about the “third dimension of social cognition.” In addition to evaluating people based on closeness (the X axis or horizontal dimension) and hierarchy (the Y axis or vertical dimension), we also evaluate people based on their placement on a 3rd dimension, a kind of Z axis on which God and goodness are at the top, while the Devil and evil is at the bottom. Social disgust is what we feel when we see someone moving down. It was only years later, after I got to UVA, that I began wondering what we feel when we see people moving “up” — behaving in a saintly or godlike way. In 1997 I started trying to answer that question, and that inquiry took me to the study of moral elevation and awe, which then led me into positive psychology. Now that I have moved to a business school, I am investigating the role that moral elevation can play in leadership, and in inspiring ethical behavior.
My Major Relevant Publications:
- The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006). This book evaluates 10 ancient psychological ideas from the perspective of modern science. Chapter 9, “divinity with or without God,” focuses on self-transcendent emotions.
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012). This book explores moral psychology. Chapter 10 covers “hive psychology” and the ecstatic loss of self.
- Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence TED (2012). My main talk on self-transcendence and its evolutionary origins.
- How people are doing good deeds during the recession NBC News (2009). I make a brief appearance in this news story, talking about elevation.
- Five emotions you never knew you had. New Scientist (2010).
- “Who engages with moral beauty?” Article in Journal of Moral Education (2013)
- “Neural basis of moral elevation demonstrated through inter-subject synchronization of cortical activity during free-viewing” Article in PLoS One (2012).
- “Elevation at work: The organizational effects of leaders’ moral excellence.” Article in Journal of Positive Psychology (2010)
- **Witnessing Excellence in Action: The other-praising emotions of elevation, admiration, and gratitude. Article in Journal of Positive Psychology (2009). This is the major empirical article contrasting the effects of three other-praising emotions.
For a full list of my publications, please see this page.
Miscellaneous Notes and Clippings: