What has made awe so central to the development of human society? Professor Michelle “Lani” Shiota is one of the pioneering researchers in studying awe’s physiological and psychological signature, and is also deeply interested in its role in spirituality. The uniquely mind-opening nature of this emotion inspires us to put aside our pre-conceived schemas about the world and approach new situations with calm and curiosity. In addition to how awe has built our traditions so far, Professor Shiota also discusses fledgling research on how it might be harnessed in the future to heal mental states like PTSD, and to collectively tackle bigger-than-human issues like climate change.

Michelle “Lani” Shiota is an associate professor of social psychology at Arizona State University. Her studies of positive emotions, emotion regulation, and emotional mechanisms of close relationships use multiple methods including peripheral psychophysiology measures, behavioral coding, cognitive tasks, and narrative analysis as well as self-reports. Shiota’s research has been funded by National Institutes of Health, the John Templeton Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, and has been published in high-impact journals including: Emotion, JPSP, Cognition and Emotion, Psychology and Aging, and American Psychologist. She is lead author of the textbook “Emotion” (Oxford), and co-editor of the “Handbook of Positive Emotions” (Guilford). She is currently on the Executive Committee of the Society for Affective Science, she is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), and member of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology (SESP). She received her bachelor’s in communication from Stanford University, and her doctorate in social/personality psychology from University of California at Berkeley. Shiota joined the social psychology faculty at ASU in 2006, establishing the Shiota Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Testing (a.k.a. SPLAT Lab).

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This was an online adult education event co-hosted by Valley Beit Midrash, a recently awarded Scientists in Synagogues organization).


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