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Elevation


GeorgeW
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In the book The Happiness Hypothesis, (which I recently completed), the author Jonathan Haidt (a research psychologist), has identified an emotion that he calls ‘elevation’ which is independent of the “six basic emotions; joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise.” Although this is a relatively minor portion of the book, it is relevant to this forum since ‘elevation’ is particularly related to religious experience.

 

According to Haidt, ‘elevation’ is the felling we get when responding to something of “moral beauty” and involves feelings of calm and warmth. It is a feeling of bonding. He says, that for many people, one of the pleasures of going to church is “collective elevation.” It may be the feeling we get when we hear about some incredible act of altruism.

 

He relates this also to agape, “a love that has no specific object, but is related to love of humankind.” He says it is natural to attribute this love to Christ or the Holy Spirit moving within one’s heart and “give direct and subjectively compelling evidence that God resides within each person.”

 

This feeling of elevation does not seem to be simply a mental illusion, but likely has a physiological basis. It is related to the vargus nerve which he says, “is the main nerve of the parasympathetic (fight or flight) system. He says the vargus nerve works with the hormone oxytocin to create feelings of calm. This may be why people often point to their heart when describing the emotion.

 

It is particularly interesting that while people, with this emotion, feel elevated and want to do good deeds; their research suggests that, after elevation, people do not behave much differently. He says that oxytocin fills people with feelings of love, but not action.

 

George

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Interesting. I'm not a psychologist, and sociology IMO is absolutely dreadful at accounting for emotion, but that's a set of findings I could believe. To bring in one of my favorite theologians, Karl Barth believed that the experience of grace comes and goes, and we have little control over when it happens. Furthermore, he once wrote that communities and churches exist to help people between moments of grace.

 

I think that argument makes a lot of sense in relation to what Haidt describes: we cannot rely exclusively fleeting experiences to shape us and for us to grow as people. Communities will likely weave those experiences into various religious and social practices, and by linking those emotional highs to practices that socialize and discipline people to act a certain way, one may come to accept that communities understanding of morality and act in accordance with it.

 

The above is an extremely optimistic view of how this could work, without considering power & marginalization at all. That said, I suspect something like that can be described as central to an ideal religious community.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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I suspect something like that can be described as central to an ideal religious community.

 

Good point. Perhaps the benefit of this emotion is not in indivdual action per se (Haidt says this does not motivate action), but in community and the possiblilties of community.

 

It is hard to imagine that a group of connected people feeling 'elevated' by something positive would not lead to action.

 

George

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Well... ok, I tried being optimistic, and it lasted for a whole post :D

 

You have communities which organize around elevation. The make sense of it particular ways, they organize rituals that produce it, etc, etc, etc. Liturgy is supposed to not just be theologically correct, but also a moving experience.

 

While not guaranteed, it is more than plausible that communities would attempt to organize such emotional experiences. Furthermore, it would stand to reason that countless socialization processes get tethered tot the things that try to encourage elevation. Thus, elevation, as an emotion, could be organized by a community to promote collective action & a particular social order.

 

If you notice, this post is utterly amoral so far, and that is quite intentional. Maybe all of this is part of a sanctification process, maybe this creates narrow minded tribal Christians. I could imagine it working either way.

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The better correlate in the field of psychology would be Maslow's "peak experiences."

 

Actually, this would not be very relevant to "positive psychology" in the sense Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihali intended whe they coined this term. Their theory is grounded in the observation that as traditional psychology has focused on pathology, what "goes wrong" in human development and experience that results in dysfunction, the same should be true of attempting to identify what "goes right" that results in healthy, well-functioning and happy people. This would create a dual approach to mental health, particuarly in developmental psychology, to understand not only what to avoid, but what to promote, for best possible outcome.

 

The original idea for the positive psychology approach arose out of observations of survivors of the traumas of WWII, whether those that had survived concentration camps, or ordinary citizens whose lives had been devastated. It was observed that the degree and length of the traumatic experiences were not a good indicator of the person's affected state, or how readily or not they overcame and readjusted in life. Some that had sufferred the worst recovered and moved on better than some others whose trauma and life disruption had seemed much less dramatic exhibited more severe and long lasting damage.

 

That led to the theory of "resilency"...why are some people more resilent to trauma, change, disruptions in life, than others? Later studies involved such high-risk populations as native Polynesians and native American reservations, where there are extremely high rates of mal-adjustment behaviors such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and suicide, and adult failure to thrive in life. In all those populations, there are those that rise above the average, overcome their developmental environment, to become well-functioning adults succesfull in life....finding what made those individuals different, in hopes of replicating those factors in others at risk, is the goal of "positive psychology".

 

Jenell

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"Elevation" as I understand it being used here, as a relatively brief state that doesn't neccessarily lead to continued change or action as a result, whould seem a good definition of what I've observed at some churches of the Pentacostal type. It is common for the congregation to experience high levels of excitement, positive emotions, joy, love, and the like, during their services, but, once they leave and head home, it all just seems to fade away. It was like a "peak experience", or perhaps more accurately, an emotionally induced "high", but seems to wear off rather quickly and not result in much overall change in attitudes or behaviors once away from that environment and communal experience.

 

Jenell

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Come to think of it, is what we are talking about really any different from what happens at high school pep rallies, or as i remember from many years ago, when I worked for a large corporation, what I now know was skillfully orchestrated "hyping" us (employees) up at the monthly manager's meetings and company sponsored picnics, parties, and baseball games?

 

Jenell

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From Haidt (2003):

 

Elicitors. Elevation is elicited by moral beauty, just as social disgust is elicited by moral depravity. Acts of charity, kindness, loyalty, and self-sacrifice seem to be powerful elicitors, but more work is needed on the degree to which displays of different virtues produce the same feeling, or slightly different feelings.

Action tendency. Like gratitude, elevation makes a person feel warmth and affection towards the person who elicited the emotion. But unlike gratitude, elevation seems to create a more generalized desire to become a better person oneself, and to follow the example of the moral exemplar. People who experience elevation are more likely to want to help other people, to give money to charity, and to list pro-social actions when asked to write about their life goals (Haidt et al., 2000). Elevation therefore fits well with Fredrikson's (1998) "broaden and build" model. It opens people up to new possibilities for action and thought, making them more receptive to the lessons of a moral exemplar. This opening process may explain why narratives of the lives of saints and religious leaders (e.g., Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa) so often include accounts of people who, upon meeting the holy person, dropped their previous lives and even their previous names, and became re-born on the spot into a new, more altruistic and less materialistic identity. Elevation may function as a kind of "moral reset button" in the human mind. Moral exemplars can push this reset button in others, creating a virtuous ripple effect (Haidt, 2000a).

 

Haidt is a leading figure in the field of positive psychology.

 

Myron

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As a guess, we're talking about differences in degree rather than qualitative differences.

 

And again, the questions I have would be how spontaneous or formalized are the events that create these emotional effects in a given community, how are they understood, and what other practices & meanings are they connected to. As a guess, making a direct link from that experiential state to acting more ethically may miss a few important intervening steps.

 

EDIT: ...based on Minsocial's post, I want to say I'm sure he's identifying something real, I'm just (& unsurprisingly) curious about the phenomena I'm used to looking for.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Nick,

 

Perhaps you have experienced elevation yourself? This is more about what it is ... again from Haidt 2003:

 

There is, however, one emotional experience related to awe that qualifies as a moral emotion according to the two criteria of the present paper: elevation (Haidt, 2000a). Many people report being deeply moved simply by hearing stories about acts of kindness and charity. Haidt, Algoe, Tam, Chandler, and Meijer (2000) set out to investigate this emotional state by collecting narratives of such experiences, and by inducing it in the lab with videos about moral exemplars. They found that these emotional experiences have most of the hallmarks of a basic emotion, with the exception of a distinctive facial expression. Elevation appears to be caused by seeing manifestations of humanity's higher or better nature; it triggers a distinctive feeling in the chest of warmth and expansion; it causes a desire to become a better person oneself; and it seems to open one's heart not only to the person who triggered the feeling, but to other people as well. In all of its components, elevation appears to be the opposite of social disgust. Where social disgust is caused by seeing people blur the lower boundary between humans and non-humans, elevation is caused by seeing people blur the upper boundary between humans and God (i.e., saints, or people who act like saints). Where disgust makes people close off and avoid contact, elevation makes people open up and seek contact. Where disgust creates negative contamination (Nemeroff & Rozin, 1994), elevation creates positive contamination (e.g., people want to touch living saints, or in some cultures to collect the hair, clothing, or bones of dead saints).
(emphasis added)

 

Myron

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Thanks, Myron. This does seem to be talking about something different from the more temporary elevated states I was thinking of and mentioned.

 

Now I'm curious about what the difference is between the more common sort of elevation I was observing, and that which actually brings about a change in attitudes and behaviors. The more common sort I observe, in regards to "collecting" narratives that inspire emotional elevation, are such as can be observed in people tending to, sometimes obsessively so, collect, send out in emails, post on social networks, "feel good" stuff, what has been termed "glurges", pretty stories, and in popular publications such as the "chicken soup for the soul" series, several "inspritational" religious periodicals, etc. They seem to serve to make the person feel good about themselves, in a selfish kind of way, as they vicariously identify with them, but it doesn't generally seem to be reflected in any real changes in their actual attitudes and behaviors.

 

Maybe I'm just being cynical.

 

Jenell

 

P.S. Yes, if talking about something, an expereince, that DOES bring about a postive change, that would be consistent with the concepts in "positive psychology", while the comparitively superficial sort I'm referring to more so with what has been called "power of positive thinking", aimed at feeling better about oneself.

Edited by JenellYB
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I agree with the observation that any experience must be incorporated into the larger context of our lives. Experiences are fleeting; we must value the insight they give about ourselves at the time. That is why, for instance, both wisdom and meditation are tied together in contemplative traditions.

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In further thought about this, I've tried to recall incidents in my own life, in which I've expereinced something emotionally inspiring, and of both sorts...those that just made me "feel good", like all warm and fuzzy inside or all hyped and optimistic, but that had little lasting effect on me and my actions, vs those that did seem to spur some change within me, in my attitudes, in what i did after.

 

There seems to be emerging some interesting patterns in that. Where something like that elevated my emotions, mood, briefly, without lasting effect, I seem to have felt a vicarious identification with the "good-doer", as if by percieving myself "like" them, or as part of a "same group" as them, which made me feel good about myself, "elevated" myself in my own eyes. On the other hand, those occasions in which I experienced elevation that resulted in action, changes, were those in which my perception was more like a recognition that I COULD do like they did, I COULD make a difference in some way, and thus felt encouraged to go out and do likewise. A difference of sort of, "mmmmm, how nice, I AM like them, and it feels good," and realizing, "if they can do that, if they can really make a positive difference, then so can I!" The one seemed to feed my complacency, gave me feelings of comfort, as in, gee, there really IS good still in the world, while the other seemed to spark confidence to step out of my comfort zone, confident I could BE a force of good in the word.

 

Jenell

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Jenell,

 

Elevation belongs to a triad of emotions that have as their formal objects the positive moral actions of others. Haidt calls this the "Other Praising" family of moral emotions. Elevation is associated with awe and gratitude. Why do you suppose heroes play such an important role in our lives? These moral emotions are what Jung called "numinous" archetypes. Note also that awe, elevation and gratitude are often responses to the compassionate actions of others. Now ... Jesus and Buddha come to mind ... good models to base a life upon, not?

 

Myron

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Myron, good models, definitely yes.

 

I guess there's still something in this line of thought I'm trying to sort out, though...how in some instances, a person may 'identify' the hero or model in a sense of I suppose it would be, 'identifying with the model's glory', vs. "identifying with the model's action.' We observe both, perhaps most or all have experienced both. Again, to give a common example, when someone "identifies" with a heroic figure, in a sense of "shared basking in the glory", that brings mood elevation that soon passes without inciting change, as compared to when someone "identifies" with a heroic figure in a way that they are inspired or encouraged to emulate that figure's admirable action.

 

Just something I need to chew on awhile I suppose. What makes that difference in any given situation or occasion, in the response.

 

Jenell

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Elevation belongs to a triad of emotions that have as their formal objects the positive moral actions of others. Haidt calls this the "Other Praising" family of moral emotions. Elevation is associated with awe and gratitude.

 

Yes, they are in the same family, but Haidt does distinguish them. He says that 'awe' is linked with fear and submission in the presence of something much greater than self; something so vast that it cannot be accommodated by the person's existing mental structures. He says this plays a role in most stories of religious conversion.

 

I think the physiological reactions to 'awe' differ from 'elevation' but I couldn't find the description. In any event, as I recall, it is not the calm, warm fuzzy feeling of 'elevation.'

 

George

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Yes, they are in the same family, but Haidt does distinguish them. He says that 'awe' is linked with fear and submission in the presence of something much greater than self; something so vast that it cannot be accommodated by the person's existing mental structures. He says this plays a role in most stories of religious conversion.

 

I think the physiological reactions to 'awe' differ from 'elevation' but I couldn't find the description. In any event, as I recall, it is not the calm, warm fuzzy feeling of 'elevation.'

 

George

 

George,

 

From Haidt (2003):

 

There has been even less empirical research on awe than on gratitude ­ only 11 articles in PsycInfo have "awe" in the title or key phrase. Lazarus (1991a) says that awe is an ambiguous state which can often be a negative experience, blending fright and amazement. Frijda (1986) discusses wonder rather than awe, which he links to surprise and amazement, and interprets as a passive, receptive mode of attention in the presence of something unexpected. A recent questionnaire study of the causes and consequences of awe (Shin, Keltner, Shiota, & Haidt, in preparation) finds that awe is elicited by a heterogenous set of experiences, the largest of which are experiences of natural beauty, artistic beauty, and exemplary or exceptional human actions or abilities. Awe appears to be elicited by exposure to certain kinds of beauty and perfection. As for its action tendencies, Shin et al. (in preparation) find, consistent with Frijda's description of wonder, that awe seems to make people stop, admire, and open their hearts and minds. It may be for this reason that awe is so often discussed in a religious context as the proper and desirable response to the presence of God (James, 1902/1961). This sort of awe may qualify as a moral emotion in a devoutly religious culture, and the design of many religious spaces can be seen as an attempt to produce or amplify awe experience, which in turn should make people more receptive to the teachings they hear.
(emphasis added)

 

One important function of emotion is in the specificity of their "formal objects". In the case of awe, gratitude and elevation, attention is drawn to different categories of positive action in others. Another set of emotions involving compassion draws our attention to the suffering of others. Put the two families together and you can see how reciprocal altruism might have a real foundation (see gratitude).

 

There is a hitch, however. Some people develop a highly pessimistic world view which skews their perceptions of other peoples motives, thus they miss out on experiencing these positive emotions.

 

I would add, from Jung, that motivators do not guarantee action. There are always counter-motives which, if strong enough, leave us in a persistant state of non-action and cognitive dissonance. What positive psychology seeks to do is tip the balance just enough to increase the possibility of positive behaviours. Some have found their own "salvation" in the shift to a more positive worldview.

 

Myron

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From Haidt (2003):

 

Myron, can you provide a complete citation for this? I, and maybe others, might be interested in reading it. The book I recently read was published in 2006 and I did not see any 2003 publications on Amazon for Haidt.

 

George

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George, on Jonathan Heidt's home page, you will find at the bottom in the citations, links to some of his articles. I may be incorrect, but I think what Myron is referring to may be found through those, rather than in a published book by this author.

 

Jonathan Heidt is also a contributor involved in the "yourmorals.org" website.

 

I'm presently reading my way through some of these resources since Myron raised reference to his ideas into this discussion. I've realized this is why I am not already familiar with this class of emotions such as "elevations", these are Heidt ideas and constructs, and as such, I had not encountered them through my previous studies at UH or follow up reading since then.

 

Jenell

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Myron, can you provide a complete citation for this? I, and maybe others, might be interested in reading it. The book I recently read was published in 2006 and I did not see any 2003 publications on Amazon for Haidt.

 

George

 

George,

 

I thought Jenell was correct, I originally found the 2003 paper on his website. It does not appear to be listed any longer. I will try to find out if it is still available. The heading reads:

 

The Moral Emotions

Jonathan Haidt

University of Virginia

This HTML file contains the original manuscript, prior to copy-editing, which appeared as:

Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.),

Handbook of affective sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.(pp. 852-870).

 

Copyright 2003 Oxford University Press

 

To obtain the type-set version of this paper please obtain the book, or email the author at haidt@virginia.edu

 

Myron

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