The academic literature in moral psychology outlines a variety of situations, events, scenes, and circumstances that elicit the emotions of awe, elevation, admiration, gratitude, and hope. These elicitors are encountered in two primary forms.
First, we can directly experience a stimulus or situation that has been linked with the elicitation of self-transcendent emotions. The academic literature details how we can have such experiences through direct encounters with things like nature, extraordinary displays of talent or skill, stunning architecture, birth, and religious rituals. As of now, less is known about how we might experience self-transcendent emotions through encounters with these stimuli in media.
Secondly, we can also experience these emotions by witnessing others in our social environment. Peterson and Seligman (2004) classified certain behaviors that are said to be manifestations of trait transcendence (i.e., character strengths). It is thought that these behaviors are reflective of transcendence in the lives of those performing them and that—more importantly for us—others witnessing those behaviors can experience self-transcendent emotions and develop their own trait transcendence. The authors identified four classifications of such behaviors: displaying an appreciation of beauty and excellence, displaying gratitude, displaying hope, and displaying religiousness.
As a result, we have identified two broad categories of media depictions that should be associated with inspiration and the experience of self-transcendent emotions in viewers:
Undoubtedly, other content and context features also impact the potential for inspiration and self-transcendent emotions with moving-image media: genre, specific plot points at and settings in which displays are depicted, demographic profile of characters exhibiting transcendence, demographic profile of the recipients of transcendent behaviors, and the presence and style of accompanying music, just to name a few. We are examining all of these features (and more).
A complete moving-image media coding scheme will be posted to this site once we have completed and published our planned content analyses. Those interested in more detail before that time can contact us.
Citation: Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.