(Photo: Flickr / FredrikRB)
Researchers at the Association for Psychological Science have released a new study that suggests that awe - specifically brought on by nature - increases one's tendency to believe in God.
Psychological scientist Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and colleague Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California showed study participants either footage of BBC's "Planet Earth" nature documentary series or "neutral" news interviews.
After watching the clips, Valdesolo and Graham asked participants "how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god's or other non-human entity's plan."
The researchers said that the those who had watched "Planet Earth," a show which includes imagery of earth's waterfalls, canyons, jungles and mountain peaks, were more likely to believe in God and in more supernatural control than participants who had only watched the news.
"Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world", said Valdesolo in a statement.
Valdesolo said that his study was interested in understanding what factors led to a belief in the supernatural
"We wanted to test the exact opposite prediction: It's not that the presence of the supernatural elicits awe, it's that awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural," he said.
"The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes," Valdesolo added.
Researchers also found that participants who had watched "Planet Earth" showed an increasing intolerance of uncertainty, leading to Valdesolo and Graham to theorize that this discomfort with ambuguity may be one of the factors encouraging people to believe in God.
The scientists are now trying to determine the link between individuals feeling awe and "submissive body postures," such as kneeling, bowing, and gazing up.
"The more submissive we act, the more awe we might feel, and perhaps the stronger our beliefs become," said Valdesolo.