Dacher Keltner is a prominent psychologist and professor known for his work in social psychology, particularly in emotions, compassion, and social interactions. He was born on November 17, 1962. Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1994. He is widely recognised for his research on the science of emotions and their impact on human behaviour. One of his key contributions has been in positive psychology, where he emphasises the importance of positive emotions such as compassion, empathy, and gratitude in promoting well-being and social cohesion.
Keltner is also known for his studies on nonverbal communication and the role of touch in social interactions. He has explored how touch can convey emotions and create social bonds between individuals. Additionally, he has investigated the expressions of power and how different body language cues can signal dominance or submission.

After surveying people in 26 countries (including Aotearoa), Keltner and his research team found that, worldwide, the most robust sense of awe comes from appreciating the everyday goodness of others.

Awe, in particular, has been a central topic of Keltner’s research. He defines awe as an emotion experienced in the presence of something vast, overwhelming, and transcendent, which leads to a sense of wonder and a feeling of being connected to something greater than oneself. This can include experiences like gazing at a starry night sky, observing the grandeur of nature, or feeling moved by a piece of art.
Keltner’s studies on awe have shown that experiencing this emotion can profoundly affect an individual’s psychological and physical well-being. Awe has been linked to increased feelings of connectedness, generosity and prosocial behaviour, and even improvements in overall health. It can also lead to shifts in perspective and increased openness to new ideas and experiences.
Overall, Dacher Keltner’s research has contributed to understanding the importance of emotions like awe in shaping human behaviour, relationships, and personal growth. His work has implications for various fields, including psychology, sociology, philosophy, and even the design of environments that elicit awe-inspiring experiences.
“[Other people’s] kindness, their courage, their capacity to overcome things, their wisdom, their sense of beauty, their sense of humour… the virtues and strengths of people move us, they inspire us to awe, and we often underappreciate that in our daily lives.”
Experiences of awe also shine a light on what’s most personally meaningful to us, Keltner says.

“Awe is like a meaning compass. It points you toward the things you care about most and elevates that branch of happiness.” It is possible to shift your mindset in the direction of awe,” Dacher Keltner

Grief can be a pathway, too, and the death of Keltner’s brother Rolf in 2019 was part of his motivation to write the book. “I was awash in the feeling of grief – panic and confusion and disorientation and loss and sadness – and went in search of awe to find my way through grief. “The night he passed away, as I encountered that vast mystery of his life ending, I felt awe.”
Later, when grief had Keltner “very disoriented, panicky and struggling”, he set out to refind it by reflecting on people who inspire him morally and by walking in nature every day.
Experiencing awe makes us realise whatever we are stressed out about is fleeting and just a tiny part of the bigger picture.

“There’s great wisdom in the stepping back that awe provides and the insights it gives us into how we can be a part of positive social change.” Dacher Keltner.

Dacher Keltner’s work has significantly impacted the field of psychology, particularly in understanding the dynamics of emotions, social interactions, and the role of compassion in shaping human behaviour.

Some key points from his research:

  1. Psychological and Physiological Effects: Awe can lead to various psychological and physiological changes. People who experience awe often report feelings of wonder, humility, and connection to something greater than themselves. Physiologically, awe can lead to a decreased sense of self-importance and an increased focus on the collective, fostering feelings of unity and social harmony.
  2. Positive Outcomes: Keltner’s research suggests that experiences of awe can have numerous positive outcomes. They can enhance well-being, promote prosocial behaviour, and even have physical health benefits. Awe may inspire individuals to be more generous, cooperative, and compassionate toward others. This, in turn, can contribute to building stronger social bonds and communities.
  3. Nature and Awe: Keltner has explored how experiences in nature can evoke feelings of awe. Natural landscapes, vast vistas, and encounters with wildlife can trigger profound awe-inspiring moments. These experiences promote a sense of interconnectedness with the natural world and encourage environmentally conscious behaviour.
  4. Art, Creativity, and Awe: Awe can also be triggered by artistic and creative experiences. Works of art, music, literature, and other forms of human expression have the potential to evoke awe by tapping into emotions and themes that transcend the ordinary.
  5. Cultural and Social Influences: Keltner has considered how cultural and social factors can influence the experience and expression of awe. Different societies may have varying triggers for awe and distinct ways of interpreting and integrating emotion into their collective identity.

“Read this book to connect with your highest self.”
Susan Cain Author of Bittersweet and Quiet

Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Dr Keltner, a renowned expert in the science of human emotion, studies compassion and awe, how we express emotion, and how emotions guide our moral identities and search for meaning. His research interests also span power, status, inequality, and social class issues. HKeltner has authored several books, including “Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life” and “The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence.” He is a co-director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, which aims to promote the study and application of positive emotions and strengths.


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