The continuum of self-transcendence: flow experience and the emotion of awe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


When the boundaries between the Self and the others dissolve, people are prone to enter a self-transcendent experience (STE). A recent model (Yaden, Haidt, Vago, & Newberg, 2017) posited that STEs can be placed on a continuum ranging from a low to a higher intensity. Both the optimal psychological state of flow and the complex emotion of awe have been considered as STEs and placed on this continuum. Despite this promising theoretical underpinning their relationship has not been empirically tested yet. Here, we involved 38 participants (20 females) to investigate the relationship between flow and awe as self-transcendent experiences, in response to three virtual environments (VREs) previously validated to elicit awe (i.e., Forest of tall trees, Mountains and the vision of the Earth from outside its atmosphere). We assumed that since flow is a lower intensity STE than awe, it would be elicited at some extent also when people experienced awe, and that the two experiences would be correlated within each VRE. We assessed flow levels (Flow State Scale) and sense of presence (ITC-SOPI) after the navigation of each environment in a within-subjects design. Our results showed that all environments induced high levels of flow and presence. After Bonferroni correction, we found that only Mountains elicited higher significant levels of Global flow compared to Earth view. Earth view was the lowest-flow conductive scenario. Paired sample T-Test Bayes Factor (BF) showed that Mountain and Forest induced statistically similar levels of Global flow. Then, awe and flow were significantly correlated, in line with the STE reference model. Overall, dimensions related to self-transcendence showed significantly high correlations in awe and flow. This study provided the first empirical evidence of the relationship between two phenomena, which are so fleeting but so relevant for individuals’ wellbeing, health, and mutual connectedness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-79
Number of pages13
JournalAnnual Review of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Awe
  • Emotion-induction
  • Emotions
  • Flow experience
  • Self-transcendence
  • Virtual reality

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