Virtual-Reality Music-Based Elicitation of Awe: When Silence Is Better Than Thousands Sounds

  • Alice ChiricoEmail author
  • Andrea Gaggioli
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes of the Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering book series (LNICST, volume 288)


Several researches have revealed the potential of awe, a complex emotion arising from vast stimuli able to prompt for a restructuration of people’ mental schema, on wellbeing and health. Despite a lot has been revealed about awe, researchers still face the challenge of eliciting intense instances of awe in a controlled way. A combination of two or more emotion-induction techniques can enhance the intensity of the resulting emotion. VR has resulted as one of the best techniques to elicit awe, but it has never been tested in combination with other effective awe-inducing methods, such as music. Here, we tested the combined effect of VR and music on the resulting awe’s intensity. We randomly assigned 76 healthy participants to one of these four conditions: (i) VR with background sounds (ii) VR and Music, (iii) only Music; (iv) VR without sounds. VR environments and music have been validated in previous studies on awe. Before the exposure to each stimulus, we asked participants to rate the extent to which they felt (i.e., experienced) seven emotions. After the exposure, we measured also how much participants perceived (i.e., they “read” it into the emotional material) each of the seven emotions, as well as their general affect (Positive and Negative Affective Schedule), their sense of presence (i.e., how much participants felt to be “present” within a scene) (ITC-SOPI Inventory), the sense of perceived vastness and need for accommodation associated to the stimulus material (Brief Awe-Scale). We also assessed also participants’ disposition to live seven discrete positive emotions (Dispositional Positive Emotions Scale) and musical preferences (STOMP). “VR with Music” condition elicited a higher (even not significant) sense of ecological validity compared to Music condition. All conditions elicited significantly higher sense of felt awe, joy, and fear compared to the baseline and a significantly lower anger after each condition. Participants in the Music condition felt a lowest sense of amusement after the exposure. We found no effect of condition on felt awe. Conversely, perceived awe was significantly higher in the “VR and Music” condition compared to the Music condition. “VR without sounds” condition elicited significantly higher sense of fear compared to Music condition, and significantly lower sense of pride and sadness compared to Music condition. We found no significant effect for any covariate variable. These results have relevant implications for fundamental research on awe and to design awe-based training enhancing wellbeing health, or targeting severe emotional disorders, such as Depression.


Awe Emotion-induction Virtual reality Music Wellbeing Perceived emotions Felt emotions Silence 


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Copyright information

© ICST Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversità Cattolica Del Sacro CuoreMilanItaly
  2. 2.Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology LabIstituto Auxologico ItalianoMilanItaly

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