Hi All,

Two years have passed since My professor and I have started working on the idea of a Transformative Experience design. Where are we know? What do we plan to do?

Carry on reading this article from by professor and many of your questions (not all!..suspance!) will be answered…


Transformative Experience Design

In the last couple of years, I and my team have been intensively working on a new research program in Positive Technology: Transformative Experience Design.

In short, the goal of this project is to understand how virtual reality, brain-based technologies and the language of arts can support transformative experiences, that is, emotional experiences that promote deep personal change.

About Transformative Experience Design..

As noted by Miller and C’de Baca, there are experiences in life that are able to generate profound and long-lasting shifts in core beliefs and attitudes, including subjective self-transformation. These experiences have the capacity of changing not only what individuals know and value, but also how they see the world.

According to Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory, these experiences can be triggered by a “disorienting dilemma” usually related to a life crisis or major life transition (e.g., death, illness, separation, or divorce), which forces individuals to critically examine and eventually revise their core assumptions and beliefs. The outcome of a transformative experience is a significant and permanent change in the expectations – mindsets, perspectives and habits of mind – through which we filter and make sense of the world. For these characteristics, transformative experiences are gaining increasing attention not only in psychology and neuroscience, but also in philosophy.

From a psychological perspective, transformative change is often associated to specific experiential states, defined “self-transcendence experiences”. These are transient mental states that allow individuals experiencing something greater of themselves, reflecting on deeper dimensions of their existence and shaping lasting spiritual beliefs. These experiences encompass several mental states, including flow, positive emotions such as awe and elevation, “peak” experiences, “mystical” experiences and mindfulness (for a review, see Yaden et al.). Although the phenomenological profile of these experiential states can vary significantly in terms of quality and intensity, they are characterized by a diminished sense of self and increased feelings of connectedness to other people and one’s surroundings. Previous research has shown that self-transcendent experiences are important sources of positive psychological outcomes, including increased meaning in life, positive mood and life satisfaction, positive behavior change, spiritual development and pro-social attitudes.

One potentially interesting question related to self-transcendent experiences concerns whether, and to which extent, these mental states can be invited or elicited by means of interactive technologies. This question lies at the center of a new research program – Transformative Experience Design (TED) – which has a two-fold aims:

  • to systematically investigate the phenomenological and neuro-cognitive aspects of self-transcendent experiences, as well as their implications for individual growth and psychological wellbeing; and
  • to translate such knowledge into a tentative set of design principles for developing “e-experiences” that support meaning in life and personal growth.

The three pillars of TED: virtual reality, arts and neurotechnologies

I have identified three possible assets that can be combined to achieve this goal:

  1. The first strategy concerns the use of advanced simulation technologies, such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality, as the elective medium to generate controlled alteration of perceptual, motor and cognitive processes.
  2. The second asset regards the use of the language of arts to create emotionally-compelling storytelling scenarios.
  3. The third and final element of TED concerns the use of brain-based technologies, such as brain stimulation and bio/neurofeedback, to modulate neuro-physiological processes underlying self-transcendence mental states, using a closed-loop approach.

The central assumption of TED is that the combination of these means provides a broad spectrum of transformative possibilities, which include, for example, “what it is like” to embody another self or another life form, simulating peculiar neurological phenomena like synesthesia or out-of-body experiences, and altering time and space perception.

The safe and controlled use of these e-experiences hold the potential to facilitate self-knowledge and self-understanding, foster creative expression, develop new skills, and recognize and learn the value of others.

Example of TED research projects

Although TED is a recent research program, we are building a fast-growing community of researchers, artists and developers to shape the next generation of transformative experiences. Here is a list of recent projects and publications related to TED in different application contexts.

The Emotional Labyrinth

In this project I teamed with Sergi Bermudez i Badia and Mónica S. Cameirão from Madera Interactive Technologies Institute to realize the first example of emotionally-adaptive virtual reality application for mental health. So far, virtual reality applications in wellbeing and therapy have typically been based on pre-designed objects and spaces. In this project, we suggest a different approach, in which the content of a virtual world is procedurally generated at runtime (that is, through algorithmic means) according to the user’s affective responses. To demonstrate the concept, we developed a first prototype using Unity: the “Emotional Labyrinth”. In this VR experience, the user walks through a endless maze, whose structure and contents are automatically generated according to four basic emotional states: joy, sadness, anger and fear.

During navigation, affective states are dynamically represented through pictures, music, and animated visual metaphors chosen to represent and induce emotional states.

The underlying hypothesis is that exposing users to multimodal representations of their affective states can create a feedback loop that supports emotional self-awareness and fosters more effective emotional regulation strategies. We carried out a first study to (i) assess the effectiveness of the selected metaphors in inducing target emotions, and (ii) identify relevant psycho-physiological markers of the emotional experience generated by the labyrinth. Results showed that the Emotional Labyrinth is overall a pleasant experience in which the proposed procedural content generation can induce distinctive psycho-physiological patterns, generally coherent with the meaning of the metaphors used in the labyrinth design. Further, collected psycho-physiological responses such as electrocardiography, respiration, electrodermal activity, and electromyography are used to generate computational models of users’ reported experience. These models enable the future implementation of the closed loop mechanism to adapt the Labyrinth procedurally to the users’ affective state.

Awe in Virtual Reality

Awe is a compelling emotional experience with philosophical roots in the domain of aesthetics and religious or spiritual experiences. Both Edmund Burke’s (1759/1970 and Immanuel Kant’s (1764/2007) analyses of the sublime as a compelling experience that transcends one’s perception of beauty to something more profound are couched in terms that seem synonymous with the modern understanding of awe.

The contemporary psychological understanding of awe comes largely from a foundational article written by Keltner and Haidt (2003). According to their conceptualization, awe experiences encompass two key appraisals: the perception of vastness and the need to mentally attempt to accommodate this vastness into existing mental schemas.

Crucially, research has shown that experiencing awe is associated with positive transformative changes at both psychological and physical levels (e.g., Shiota et al., 2007Schneider, 2009Stellar et al., 2015). For example, awe can change our perspective toward even unknown others thus increasing our generous attitude toward them (Piff et al., 2015Prade and Saroglou, 2016) and reducing aggressive behaviors (Yang et al., 2016). Generally, awe broadens our attentional focus (Sung and Yih, 2015), and extends time perception (Rudd et al., 2012). Furthermore, this emotion protects our immunity system against chronic and cardiovascular diseases and enhance our satisfaction toward life (Krause and Hayward, 2015Stellar et al., 2015).

Considering the transformative potential of awe, I and my doctoral student Alice Chirico focused on how to elicit intense feelings of this complex emotion using virtual reality. To this end, we modeled three immersive virtual environments (i.e., a forest including tall trees; a chain of mountains; and an earth view from deep space) designed to induce a feeling of perceptual vastness. As hypothesized, the three target environments induced a significantly greater awe than a “neutral” virtual environment (a park consisting of a green clearing with very few trees and some flowers). Full details of this study are reported here.


In another study, we examined the potential of VR-induced awe to foster creativity. To this end, we exposed participants both to an awe-inducing 3D-video and to a neutral one in a within-subject design. After each stimulation condition, participants reported the intensity and type of perceived emotion and completed two verbal tasks of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT; Torrance, 1974), a standardized test to measure creativity performance. Results showed that awe positively affected key creativity components—fluidity, flexibility, and elaboration measured by the TTCT subtest—compared to a neutral stimulus, suggesting that (i) awe has a potential for boosting creativity, and (ii) VR is a powerful awe-inducing medium that can be used in different application contexts (i.e., educational, clinical etc.) where this emotion can make a difference.

However, not only graphical 3D environments can be used to induce awe; in another study, we showed that also 360° videos depicting vast natural scenarios are powerful stimuli to induce intense feelings of this complex emotion.


Immersive storytelling for psychotherapy and mental wellbeing

Growing research evidence indicates that VR can be effectively integrated in psychotherapyto treat a number of clinical conditions, including anxiety disorders, pain disorders and PTSD. In this context, VR is mostly used as simulative tool for controlled exposure to critical/fearful situations. The possibility of presenting realistic controlled stimuli and, simultaneously, of monitoring the responses generated by the user offers a considerable advantage over real experiences.

However, the most interesting potential of VR resides in its capacity of creating compelling immersive storytelling experiences. As recently noted by Brenda Wiederhold:

“Virtual training simulations, documentaries, and experiences will, however, only be as effective as the emotions they spark in the viewer. To reach that point, the VR industry is faced with two obstacles: creating content that is enjoyable and engaging, and encouraging adoption of the medium among consumers. Perhaps the key to both problems is the recognition that users are not passive consumers of VR content. Rather, they bring their own thoughts, needs, and emotions to the worlds they inhabit. Successful stories challenge those conceptions, invite users to engage with the material, and recognize the power of untethering users from their physical world and throwing them into another. That isn’t just the power of VR—it’s the power of storytelling as a whole.”

The emergence of immersive storytelling introduces the possibility of using VR in mental health from a different rationale than virtual reality-based exposure therapy. In this novel rationale, immersive stories, lived from a first-person perspective, provide the patient the opportunity of engaging emotionally with metaphoric narratives, eliciting new insights and meaning-making related to viewers’ personal world views.

To explore this new perspective, I have been collaborating with the Italian startup Become to test the potential of transformative immersive storytelling in mental health and wellbeing. An intriguing aspect of this strategy is that, in contrast with conventional virtual-reality exposure therapy, which is mostly used in combination with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy interventions, immersive storytelling scenarios can be integrated in any therapeutic model, since all kinds of psychotherapy involve some form of ‘storytelling’.

In this project, we are interested in understanding, for example, whether the integration of immersive stories in the therapeutic setting can enhance the efficacy of the intervention and facilitate patients in expressing their inner thoughts, feelings, and life experiences.




Are you a researcher, a developer, or an artist interested in collaborating in TED projects? Here is how:

  1. Drop an email at: andrea.gaggioli@unicatt.it
  2. Sign into ResearchGate and visit Transformative Experience Design project’s page
  3. Have a look at the existing projects and publications to find out which TED research line is more interesting to you.

Key references

[1] Miller, W. R., & C’de Baca, J. (2001). Quantum change: When epiphanies and sudden insights transform ordinary lives. New York: Guilford Press.

[2] Yaden, D. B., Haidt, J., Hood, R. W., Jr., Vago, D. R., & Newberg, A. B. (2017). The varieties of self-transcendent experience. Review of General Psychology, 21(2), 143-160.

[3] Gaggioli, A. (2016). Transformative Experience Design. In Human Computer Confluence. Transforming Human Experience Through Symbiotic Technologies, eds A. Gaggioli, A. Ferscha, G. Riva, S. Dunne, and I. Viaud-Delmon (Berlin: De Gruyter Open), 96–121.

The science of awe is on the Scientific American/La scienza del sublime arriva allo Scientific American

Dear All,


we are on the Scientific American!!!!!! Scientific American quotes “Can you Quantify Awe?

Researchers attempt to capture the full richness of the awe experience

By Scott Barry Kaufman on October 17, 2018

Can You Quantify Awe?
Credit: Roger Richter Getty Images

The state of awe is an unusual and complex emotion, mixing emotions that don’t tend to go with each other, such as ecstasy and fear. Surely such a complex emotion that is so deeply personal, cannot be quantified or captured in any scientific manner, right?

Well, maybe it can. While the concept of awe and wonder has a long history in philosophy and religion, William James and Abraham Maslow helped bring it to psychology. Today, much of the contemporary investigation of awe stems from a 2003 paper, “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion,”, written by Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt. In that seminal article, the authors argued that there are two main cognitive appraisals that are central to awe experiences: the perception of vastness and the struggle to mentally process the experience. Vastness need not be perceptual, such as seeing the Grand Canyon, but can also be conceptual, such as contemplating eternity.

Studies conducted since that 2003 paper have found that people’s ratings of the intensity of their awe experience is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, including increased life satisfaction, a feeling that there is more time availableincreased generosity and helping, and decreased aggressive attitudes. Subjective ratings of awe have also been found to affect the way we perceive our bodies (leading us to underestimate it size), temporarily increase religious and spiritual feelings and actions, and temporarily increase both supernatural belief and the tendency to perceive human agency in random events.


This is all well and good, but do the existing measures of awe really capture the full complexity of this emotion? University of Pennsylvania psychologist David Yaden didn’t think so. Yaden observed that the experimental literature on awe lacked a robust state measure of awe that included multiple dimensions of this self-transcendent experience. In his broader work, Yaden identified the core features of a self-transcendent experience: decreased feelings of self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness (see “The Varieties of Self-Transcendent Experience“). Yaden classified awe as satisfying these criteria.

When my paths crossed with Yaden at Penn, we bonded over our mutual interests in self-transcendence and creativity (among other topics). Almost immediately, we got to work on creating a new awe scale that more fully captures the various aspects of the awe experience as described in the scientific literature, and that captures the essential elements of a self-transcendent experience. We were very grateful to work with a dream team of researchers, including Dacher Keltner, Elizabeth Hyde, Alice Chirico, Andrea Gaggioli, and Jia Wei Zhang.

In our study, we first asked participants to “Please take a few minutes to think about a particular time, fairly recently, when you felt intense awe.” We then had participants write a few paragraphs about their experience. Here are some of the anonymous responses:

  • “The moment I set my eyes on the view of the lake during the winter holidays I was immediately in awe. My jaw literally dropped and I was just blown away. The view was jaw-droppingly beautiful. My eyes lit up and my face was all grinning from intense amounts of joy, relief, and awe at the spectacle in front of my eyes.”
  • “I was watching Elon Musk give his speech on his intention to send humans to Mars. As he went through the different stages required to build the requisite infrastructure, including a mission to land supplies on Mars, I felt completely floored. I was both amazed and stunned at the size and scope of what he was proposing…”
  • “My last time experiencing awe was watching my daughter play Silent Night on her sax. My daughter plays in the jazz Ensemble in school and was given the solo for this year’s convocation… Watching her play recently, she amazes me.”
  • “The time that I felt intense awe was when my wife and I went into the Rocky Mountains for our honeymoon. I had never been outside the state of Missouri and couldn’t contemplate something being as large as the mountains are.”

The majority of the participants rated their awe experience as “strongly positive.” We asked participants to specifically indicate what elicited their experience of awe. “Natural scenery” was described as the most frequent trigger, although other triggers were also represented: great skill, encounter with God, great virtue, building or monument, powerful leader, grand theory or idea, music, art, epiphany. The second most represented trigger was the “other” category. Consistent with what Abraham Maslow once observed about peak experiences, a number of the write-in responses referred to childbirth as a trigger for intense awe experiences.

We then had participants fill out a survey that included our new items about the specific experience of awe. The “Awe Experience Scale” included the following core characteristics of the experience:

  • Vastness (“I felt in the presence of something grand”)
  • Need for Accommodation (“I felt challenged to mentally process what I was experiencing”)
  • Time (“I sensed things momentarily slow down”)
  • Self-diminishment (“I felt that my sense of self was diminished”)
  • Connectedness (“I had the sense of being connected to everything”)
  • Physical Sensations (“I felt my jaw drop”)

We found that all six of these facets of the awe experience were substantially related to each other, suggesting that they tend to co-occur during the awe experience. Critically, the scale was related to a number of important variables:

  • The greater the experience of awe, the higher the rated intensity of the experience.
  • The experience of awe was related to heightened feelings of wonder, curiosity, inspiration, contentedness, appreciation, love, trust, happiness, and joyfulness.
  • The only uncomfortable emotions that were uniquely related to the awe experience were “stressed, nervous, overwhelmed.” This is consistent with awe being a unique mix of exaltation and fear/reverence.
  • The largest personality trait associated with the awe experience was openness to experience. This makes sense, considering that openness to experience is also related to a number of other self-transcendent experiences, including flow, absorption, appreciation of beauty, and romantic love.

Finally, we found that the awe experience was not associated with level of religiosity, but it was significantly related to spirituality, religious service attendance, and practices such as prayer and meditation. Therefore, while religion certainly encompasses more than just transcendent experiences— religion also serves a fundamentally social, community-binding function— our findings do suggest that certain spiritual practices, rituals, and interventions might be able to increase awe and other transcendent experiences in in all of us—regardless of our religious beliefs.As Yaden puts it, awe is the “everyperson’s spiritual experience.”

In addition to spiritual practices, how else can awe be increased? The scientific findings suggest that increasing exposure to the many “triggers” of awe in one’s daily life can increase the chances that one will increase in awe in one’s daily life. One promising technology for increasing awe among those with a more restricted lifestyle– such as those who are hospitalized or among physically disabled individuals– is Virtual Reality (VR) technology.

Many individuals simply don’t have the physical opportunities to walk the streets of Paris, climb Mount Everest, or orbit planet Earth (well, most of us are not capable of climbing Everest or orbiting Earth). Alice Chirico and her colleagues have been inducing awe in the laboratory by showing participants forests of tall trees in a 360-degree VR environment. Through the use of VR technology, they have been able to increase the intensity of the awe experience as well as increase a sense of presence and even enhance creative thinking.

Researchers have already begun using our Awe Experience Scale in on-going research to measure awe in nature, museum, meditation, virtual reality, and in clinical studies using psychedelics. We hope that our more multidimensional measure of the awe experience will spur even further research on this understudied yet important self-transcendent human emotion.




Possiamo quantificare il sublime?

Il sublime è un’emozione inusuale e complessa costituita da stati emozionali contrastanti, come l’estasi o la paura. Sembra, quindi, un’ovvia conseguenza che un fenomeno di tale complessità e multiforme natura sia difficilmente quantificabile e traducibile in un costrutto scientifico indagabile…Niente di più lontano dal vero! Questo articolo vi dimostrerà i progressi scientifici compiuti in tale direzione.

Se il Sublime non è nuovo al mondo della filosofia e della religione, la psicologia ha iniziato a trattare questo tema solo a partire da William James nei primissimi anni del ‘900 e da Abraham Maslow a metà del XXI secolo. In particolare, la formalizzazione di un modello di matrice psicologica alla base dell’esperienza del Sublime si è ottenuta solo all’inizio del XXII secolo, grazie al celebre lavoro di Keltner & Haidt (2003) “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion,”.

Secondo Keltner e Haidt (2003) il Sublime si comporrebbe di due aspetti cruciali: (i) la percezione di un senso di vastità e (ii) il bisogno di superare i convenzionali schemi di pensiero in risposta ad un’esperienza che si costituisce come un’eccezione ad essi. Tale percezione di grandiosità non fa riferimento solo a stimoli percettivi, come  la vista del Grand Canyon, ma può essere anche concettuale, come l’atto di contemplare l’eternità. Insomma, non è un’esperienza che capita tutti i giorni…

Il Sublime non sarebbe solo un fenomeno scientificamente curioso ma avrebbe anche delle ampie ricadute per il benessere e la salute delle persone. Negli anni successivi al 2003, la letteratura scientifica ha assistito ad un boom di studi che hanno dimostrato l’incredibile potere del Sublime nel migliorare la qualità della vita delle persone. Gli individui che provano più Sublime sono anche più soddisfatti della propria vita, hanno la sensazione di possedere più tempo per godersi l’esistenza, sono più generosi, aperti al prossimo, e meno aggressivi. Le Persone esposte a stimoli “sublimi” hanno riportato un cambiamento significativo nella percezione del proprio corpo. Altre ricerche hanno evidenziato come il Sublime sia in grado di produrre un incremento, seppur momentaneo, di adesione a credenze di stampo spirituali, un accrescimento di quelle in forze soprannaturali e la tendenza a percepire l’opera umana come soggetta ad una più grande causalità (es. fare parte di un disegno più grande di noi).

Nonostante siano stati rilevati tutti questi effetti benefici come conseguenza del Sublime, è stata rivolta poca attenzione alla sua misurazione. Certo, non è un quesito di semplice risoluzione ma la domanda resta degna di risposta: come catturare l’intera complessità di tale esperienza?

Lo psicologo David Yaden della Penn University (Philadelphia), ha deciso di raccogliere questa sfida. Qualificando il sublime come “esperienza auto-trascendente“, a causa della sua abilità nel promuovere un senso di connessione e di diminuzione della percezione del sè (caratteristiche evidenziate come chiave per connotare un’esperienza auto-trascendente; si veda l’articolo “The Varieties of Self-Transcendent Experience“), David ha sviluppato un questionario in grado di misurarne tutte queste sfaccettature.

Qui arrivo anche io! Conoscevo David da un annetto ed avevamo collaborato insieme in merito ad alcuni lavori teorici e sperimentali sul Sublime. Quindi, conoscevamo bene entrambi i limiti e le sfide ancora aperte in questo campo. Ecco perché ci siamo trovati immediatamente entusiasti a collaborare insieme alla stesura di una scala, un questionario, che fosse in grado di quantificare e rendere misurabile quell’esperienza di Sublime che ci stava tanto a cuore.

Il lavoro di team ha visto una leadership decisa e matura da parte di David, pur ancora dottorando, e un coordinamento efficace tra tutti gli autori della scala.

Il nostro dream team di ricercatori alla fine ce l’ha fatta. Eravamo: Dacher Keltner, Elizabeth Hyde, Scott Barry Kaufman, Andrea Gaggioli e Jia Wei Zhang……e io 🙂 🙂 .  Nel nostro studio abbiamo prima di tutto chiesto ai partecipanti di ricordare un’esperienza di sublime e di stendere qualche paragrafo per descriverla in modo anonimo.

Ecco alcuni estratti delle esperienze riportate dalle persone:

  • Nel momento in cui ho fissato i miei occhi sul lago durante le mie vacanze invernali ho sentito immediatamente un’emozione di sublime. La mia bocca si è spalancata e sono stato semplicemente spazzato via. La vista era incredibilmente bella. I miei occhi si sono illuminati e il mio viso stava sorridendo per questa intensa quantità di gioia, sollievo e per l’ammirazione per lo spettacolo che avevo davanti ai miei occhi. “
  • “Stavo guardando Elon Musk mentre teneva il suo discorso circa la sua intenzione di mandare l’essere umano su Marte. Mentre attraversava le diverse fasi per costruire l’infrastruttura necessaria, inclusa la missione di far approdare le provvigioni su Marte, mi sentivo completamente sconvolto. Ero stupito e sbalordito dalle dimensioni e dalla portata di ciò che stava proponendo… “
  • “L’ultima volta che ho vissuto un’emozione di sublime è stato mentre guardavo mia figlia suonare ‘Silent Night’ con il suo sax. Mia figlia suona nel gruppo jazz della scuola e stava facendo l’assolo per il quale quest’anno è stata scelta… Riguardando il suo spettacolo di recente mi ha lasciato sbalordito.”
  • “La volta in cui ho provato una forte ammirazione è stato quando mia moglie ed io siamo andati sulle Montagne Rocciose per la nostra luna di miele. Non ero mai stato fuori dallo stato del Missouri e non riuscivo a immaginare qualcosa di grande quanto quelle montagne. “

 (mia traduzione in Italiano)

La maggioranza ha riportato esperienze di Sublime connotate positivamente. A questo punto, l’interesse era tutto sugli induttori di tale esperienza: cosa l’ha fatta scattare?

Molti hanno riportato uno “scenario naturale” come induttore preferenziale del Sublime, sebbene anche altri eventi siano emersi come importanti, quali: assistere a manifestazioni di grandi abilità e virtù o potere, di idee grandiose, l’incontro con Dio, il trovarsi dinanzi ad edifici o monumenti imponenti, la musica, l’arte ed epifanie, il parto. Questi risultati sono coerenti con quanto già osservato e teorizzato dallo stesso Abraham Maslow molti anni prima.

Successivamente, i partecipanti hanno compilato un questionario che includeva i nostri nuovi item sull’esperienza di sublime. La “Awe Experience Scale è stata strutturata sviluppando domande che permettessero di indagare le seguenti dimensioni principali:

  • Vastità (es. “Ho sentito di essere in presenza di qualcosa di grandioso”);
  • Difficoltà di comprensione (es. “Mi sono sentito in difficoltà nell’elaborare mentalmente ciò che stavo sperimentando”);
  • Percezione del tempo (es. “Ho percepito le cose rallentare momentaneamente”);
  • Piccolezza del sé (es. “Ho sentito il mio senso del sé rimpicciolire”);
  • Connessioni (es. “Ho sperimentato un senso di unità con tutte le cose”);
  • Sensazioni fisiche (es. “Ho sentito la bocca spalancarsi”).

Abbiamo scoperto che questi aspetti erano sostanzialmente legati tra loro, suggerendo una loro stabile compresenza durante l’esperienza di sublime. La scala era, inoltre, correlata a diverse altre variabili:

  • Più grande è l’esperienza di sublime, maggiore è l’intensità riportata dell’esperienza.
  • L’esperienza di sublime è legata ad emozioni intense di meraviglia, curiosità, ispirazione, soddisfazione, apprezzamento, amore, fiducia, felicità e gioia.
  • Le uniche emozioni negative legate all’esperienza di sublime sono “stress, nervosismo, sopraffazione”. Questo è coerente con il fatto che il sublime sia un mix unico di meraviglia e paura/riverenza.
  • Il tratto di personalità maggiormente associato all’esperienza di sublime è l’ Openness to Experience (i.e., apertura all’esperienza). Ciò è in linea con altri studi che hanno mostrato una relazione tra questo tratto di personalità e altre esperienze auto-trascendenti, tra cui il flow, l’assorbimento, l’apprezzamento della bellezza e l’amore romantico.
  • Infine, abbiamo scoperto che l’esperienza del sublime non è associata al livello di religiosità, ma è significativamente correlata alla spiritualità, alla frequenza di attuazione di rituali religiosi e alle pratiche come la preghiera e la meditazione. Quindi, sebbene la religione contenga certamente qualcosa di più delle esperienze trascendentali – la religione ha anche una fondamentale funzione sociale e di unione comunitaria – le nostre scoperte suggeriscono che certe pratiche spirituali, rituali e interventi potrebbero essere in grado di aumentare in tutti noi il sublime e altre esperienze trascendentali – indipendentemente dalle nostre credenze religiose. Come dice Yaden, il sublime è l’”esperienza spirituale di ogni persona”.
  • Oltre alle pratiche spirituali, in quale altro modo si può aumentare il sublime? I risultati scientifici suggeriscono che aumentare l’esposizione ai molteplici “inneschi” del sublime nella propria vita quotidiana può aumentare le probabilità di incremento di esperienze di sublime. Una tecnologia promettente per aumentare il sublime tra coloro che hanno uno stile di vita più limitato – come quelli che sono ospedalizzati o le persone fisicamente disabili – è la Realtà Virtuale.
  • Molte persone semplicemente non hanno l’opportunità fisica di camminare per le strade di Parigi, scalare l’Everest o orbitare attorno al pianeta Terra (a dire la verità molti di noi non sarebbero proprio grado di scalare l’Everest o orbitare attorno alla Terra). Qui arriviamo noi Italiani!!!! Un team composto da Vlad Glaveanu, professore presso l’università Webster a Ginevra, il prof. Giuseppe Riva, il mio supervisore, prof. Andrea Gaggioli, il professor Pietro Cipresso della medesima università e io, abbiamo indotto il sublime in laboratorio ad elevata intensità tramite la Realtà Virtuale, evidenziando come questo abbia un effetto di potenziamento del pensiero creativo! Cosa vedevano i nostri partecipanti? Semplicemente una foresta di alberi alti a 360° (vs. un ambiente neutrale). Questo ha impattato sui loro processi cognitivi!!
  • Altri ricercatori hanno iniziato ad utilizzare la nostra “Awe Experience Scale” in molteplici ricerche in corso, al fine di misurare il sublime in contesti naturalistici,  come all’interno di musei, dopo la meditazione, con la Realtà Virtuale e negli studi clinici che utilizzano sostanze psichedeliche. Speriamo che la nostra misura multidimensionale dell’esperienza di sublime stimoli anche ulteriori ricerche su questa emozione auto-trascendente così importante, delicata ma a lungo trascurata dalla scienza psicologica e dalla ricerca sperimentale.

Clicca questo link per compilare anche tu la Awe Experience Scale ITALIANA!!!





The Sublime: A new approach to study it (ENG/ITA)

Dear All,

I’ve been invited to have a keynote speech at a beautiful workshop in Paris, at the Insitut Nicod, among the first that combine psychology and philosophy on the topic of the Sublime. Organizers (Margherita Arcangeli (Humboldt University of Berlin), Jérôme Dokic (EHESS, Institut Jean-Nicod), Marco Sperduti (Université Paris Descartes) were top level researchers in the field of the Sublime and…. invited speaker are all famous and researchers in the field.

P.S. Superorganization!!!

Here’s the list:
Thursday 27th September

09:30 – 10:00 Introduction by Margherita Arcangeli (HU), Jérôme Dokic (EHESS-IJN) & Marco Sperduti (P5)

10:00 – 11:20 Tom Cochrane (Flinders University) “Analogical cognition in the sublime”

11:20 – 12:40 Jean-Marie Schaeffer (EHESS-CRAL) “From Burke to Kant : What sublime ?”

14:40 – 16:00 Alice Chirico (Università Cattolica di Milano) “Designing sublime experiences is possible : bridging philosophy and psychology”

16:00 – 17:20 Michelle Lani Shiota (Arizona State University) “Why We Need Awe : An Evolutionary Perspective”

Friday 28th September

10:00 – 11:20 Sandra Shapshay (Indiana University) “Are Monuments Sublime ?”

11:20 – 12:40 Matthew Pelowski (Universität Wien) “Quantifying the If, the What, and the When of the sublime : results from a large-scale survey of individuals’ personal sublime experiences”

14:40 – 16:00 Maddalena Mazzocut-Mis (Università degli Studi di Milano) “The pleasure of weeping”

16:00 – 17:20 Jesse Prinz (CUNY) “Wonder, Beauty, and the Sublime”


Just to let you know this…that two of them have their own page on Wikipedia…guess who! All amazing people!


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From Pseudo-Longinus to date, the Sublime has donned several guises: an emotion, a paradox…an experience.

And now….we are still struggling to understand what the Sublime is.

Crucially, why should be put so much effort in understanding it? Because the Sublime could be a fertile moment to make our schema, our certainties sway…to make us prepare to change…to see after our perceptual boundaries, our accustomed constraints, our usual way of thinking, perceiving, interpreting the surrounding world..

The “big” Sublime shakes people deeply by showing the infinitum through the finitum (as my supervisor said). The Sublime makes us transcend ourselves towards what’s beyond the physical and perceptual world..

When we are immersed in our daily routine and everything seems to overwhelm us because every single event cries for our attention, all things looks important the same way, the same level…we feel the need to hurry up!!!!

We are in the middle and everything depends on us.

You know what? It is the opposite.

We put everything as a priority and we let everything be dependent on us, requiring all our attention and strengths to be done.

The Sublime is like the old man who moves your face looking at a small crowded city in a bottle as if it was the entire world, back to the stars and to the endless sky. This old man reminds us of our place in the Universe.

It is too complicated for our poor brains to accept and grasp it entirely and constantly, this is why we pay more attention on smaller things…manageable things…daily business.

BTW, how to study such complex “experience” (my choice to define it like an experience and not as an emotion or an “event” or as a subject’s “response”)?

My proposal is as follows…and it was also the title of my presentation at the workshop:

I really believe that philosophy (the biggest expert in this field) should collaborate with psychology and neuroscience (the methodologically most advanced discipline) with the help of emerging technologies (offering new opportunities of manipulation and design of experiences) to bring forth a new science of the Sublime.



Crucially, if we start from the theory of Vladimir .I. Konecni on the Aesthetic Awe should be considered as the the primordial and prototypic human responses to the sublime in-context stimuli (Konecni, 2005), what I propose is that not only Aesthetic Awe and the Sublime are related, but that..

Awe and the Sublime itself are related if not totally overlapped…

The Sublime today

The question is whether the sublime is only a matter of aesthetic stimuli…maybe it is not…so it’s awe…Open question!

The priest today during the mass quoted Jim Morrison, and I believe that that was also a good claim to pursue the Sublime in our life

“Not to be satisfied you with the horizon…it looks for the endless one”

And you, do you live the Sublime in your life?



mi hanno chiamata come Keynote speaker a questo meraviglioso workshop Sul Sublime a Parigi, presso l’Istituto di studi superiori Nicod. Questo workshop si configura come una delle prime iniziative in grado di combinare psicologia e filosofia per lo studio del sublime. Gli organizzatori (Margherita Arcangeli (Humboldt University of Berlin), Jérôme Dokic (EHESS, Institut Jean-Nicod), Marco Sperduti (Université Paris Descartes) erano ricercatori davvero top level e il resto degli speaker non erano sicuramente da meno…ricercatori di fama internazionale sul tema.

Mia nonna direbbe “Un sacco di teste che speriamo combinino qualcosa di buono”.

Avrebbe anche ragione visto che di lavoro da fare sul Sublime ce n’è davvero parecchio.

P.S. l’organizzazione è stata magnifica e ha creato quell’atmosfera che serve per favorire conoscenza e collaborazioni!!!

Andiamo a conoscere queste persone!
Giovedì 27 Settembre

09:30 – 10:00 Introduction by Margherita Arcangeli (HU), Jérôme Dokic (EHESS-IJN) & Marco Sperduti (P5)

10:00 – 11:20 Tom Cochrane (Flinders University) “Analogical cognition in the sublime”

11:20 – 12:40 Jean-Marie Schaeffer (EHESS-CRAL) “From Burke to Kant : What sublime ?”

14:40 – 16:00 Alice Chirico (Università Cattolica di Milano) “Designing sublime experiences is possible : bridging philosophy and psychology”

16:00 – 17:20 Michelle Lani Shiota (Arizona State University) “Why We Need Awe : An Evolutionary Perspective”

Venerdì 28 Settembre

10:00 – 11:20 Sandra Shapshay (Indiana University) “Are Monuments Sublime ?”

11:20 – 12:40 Matthew Pelowski (Universität Wien) “Quantifying the If, the What, and the When of the sublime : results from a large-scale survey of individuals’ personal sublime experiences”

14:40 – 16:00 Maddalena Mazzocut-Mis (Università degli Studi di Milano) “The pleasure of weeping”

16:00 – 17:20 Jesse Prinz (CUNY) “Wonder, Beauty, and the Sublime”

Solo per darvi un’idea…almeno a due di loro Wikipedia ha dedicato una pagina. Ed eccoci sotto! Meravigliosi!


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Da Longino ad oggi, il Sublime ha vestito diverse spoglie. E’ stato considerato un’emozione, uno stimolo, una riposta ed infine (quello che sostengo io), un’esperienza.

Continuiamo, tuttavia, a faticare a comprendere cosa sia davvero il Sublime.

La domanda sorge quasi spontanea: perché dovremmo sforzarci tanto di comprendere cosa sia il Sublime?

La risposta è nella sua natura  e nell’impatto che ha sulla vita delle persone. Il Sublime è come un terreno fertile per scuotere i nostri schemi precostituiti, le nostre certezze, per prepararci a cambiare in modo che possiamo vedere oltre i limiti sensoriali della nostra quotidianità, oltre il nostro modo consueto di pensare di percepire di interpretare il mondo….

Oltre, verso dove?

Il Sublime, quello davvero grande, scuote le persone profondamente perché mostra ciò che è infinito attraverso la nostra finitezza in esso (come dice il mio supervisore). Il Sublime ci permette di trascendere noi stessi e andare oltre i limiti fisici e sensoriali per comprendere che c’è qualcosa che non possiamo davvero comprendere.

Quando siamo tanto immersi nella nostra routine quotidiana e sembra che ogni cosa sia estremamente importante e richieda la massima attenzione dea parte nostra in quanto dipende solo da noi…il Sublime ci riporta al nostro posto..non negli affari quotidiani ma nella logica dell’universo, della natura, del mondo.

Il Sublime è come fosse un vecchio saggio uomo in grado di prendere la nostra faccia così concentrata a guardare il paesaggio caotico rappresentato in una bolla di vetro, e orientarla verso le stelle e il cielo infinito…

E’ davvero troppo complicato per le nostre povere menti accettare e cogliere davvero quotidianamente questa complessità. E’ molto più semplice pensare che le piccole cose siano tutto. Non serve porsi altre domande. Tutto è potenzialmente controllabile.

Tuttavia, come possiamo studiare in modo efficace quest’esperienza così complessa?

La mia proposta è integrare tre scienze, ed è anche quella che ho presentato al workshop:

Io ipotizzo davvero che la Filosofia (la disciplina con maggiore esperienza in questo campo) dovrebbe collaborare con la psicologia e le neuroscienze (le discipline con la metodologia sperimentale più avanzata) con l’aiuto delle tecnologie emergenti (che offrono opportunità inedite di manipolazione e design delle esperienze) per dare la luce ad una nuova scienza empirica del Sublime.



Sopratutto, se ci basiamo sulla teoria di Vladimir .I. Konecni che concepisce  all’ Aesthetic Awe come risposta primordiale e prototipica degli esseri umani nei confronti del Sublime (Konecni, 2005), ritengo sia possibile fare un passo in avanti ed affermare che non vi è solo un legame tra Awe estetico e Sublime ma che i due fenomeni intratterrebbero una relazione più forte in grado di includere anche aree di sovrapposizione ampie..


The Sublime today

La domanda diverrebbe quindi se il Sublime sia solo legato al mondo dell’estetica oppure no….Domanda senza risposta..

Oggi a messa, il prete ha citato Jim Morrison per spiegare ai parrocchiani cosa significhi trascendere il sensibile verso l’infinito…cosa significhi provare il Sublime verso Dio..

Un ottimo motto per tutti noi penso..

“Non accontentarti dell’orizzonte….cerca l’infinito”

E voi? Provate mai il Sublime nella vostra vita?


I learnt a new emotion: “Contentment”


I am back from an outstanding conference in Zagreb on well-being, positive psychology and children “1st International Scientific Conference of the Department of Psychology at the Catholic University of Croatia“.


Contentment is when one feels that his/her current resources match or exceed the level of need (Shiota et al., 2006; p. 63). 

Contentment is when you savor life and all its contingencies and successes (Fredrickson, 1998).


… and there are many reasons.


1. This beautiful person and researcher, Professor Nansook Park. Director, Michigan Positive Psychology Center, she believes in people’s strengths and resources in a cross-cultural perspective. An inspiring person!


2. Beautiful people who organized this event, such as Barbara Brdovčak! No one has never written down my full name at the airport, as if I was a star!

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3. The Cathedral of Zagreb….AWESOME! I felt overwhelmed (despite I was also tired as you can see..)

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4. The Research Team I traveled with and I met there…unique experience for me.

Thanks to the Dean, to Marina Merkaš, PhD; Prof. María Josefa Rodrigo López; Barbara Brdovčak Phd student (my welcomer); Dragan Glavaš Phd Candidate; Prof. Antonietti, Prof. Manuela Cantoia, Alice Cancer Phd Candidate, Chiara Valenti Psy and many others!!!

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I feel content!


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I wish you a wonderful week full of moments of joy and people to share them with.

Towards a democracy of emotions

Usually, we describe awe as a rare emotional state. Its is difficult to live it and to reproduce it. Even more difficult is to find it in our lives.

Awe is not democratic for its own sake.

So, what about people who cannot actively search for natural opportunities of awe? What about people paralyzed and in need for awe?

We can offer virtual opportunity to live awe…

I guess that a new period of democratization of emotions and complex states can begin now with virtual reality. We demonstrated that VR can reproduce complex and ineffable emotional states more affordably. Why not take advantage of it?

Why not expanding human potential instead of only increasing its abilities?

Molti studiano come allungare l’esistenza, il problema è invece di allargarla

“Many people study how to extend life, but the real issue is how to expand life”

– Luciano De Crescenzo-




A perspective…and then?

Hi to everyone!

Finally, my perspective has been published! So happy! It was a beautiful team work, I really have to thank you my supervisors and David B. Yaden, a brilliant research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.

You can find the pdf of the article here! 223153_chirico_provisionalpdf

A new perspective on awe and transformative experiences..maybe the way to reach that sudden and unexpected change that we are investigating now…VR is definitely the way..

It is just the first step, and we need to work more and harder, but

Roma non fu fatta in un giorno

(Rome has not been built in a single day).

What’s next?