Negative emotions, particularly loneliness, have negative effects on the health of older adults.
Being surprised is a positive thing and one that promotes healthy "prosocial" emotions, such as compassion and gratitude, according to a study by American and Irish researchers. The research, published in the scientific journal 'Emotion', has concluded that the elderly who took weekly 15-minute "walks of wonder" for eight weeks reported an increase in positive emotions and less distress in their daily lives.
"Negative emotions, particularly loneliness, have well-documented negative effects on the health of older adults, particularly those over 75," says Virginia Sturm, associate professor of Neurology and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco (USA).
Benefits of wondering
"Experiencing wonder can contribute to a host of benefits, such as an increased sense of time and greater feelings of generosity, well-being and humility," Sturm adds in statements collected by Neuroscience News. "Amazement is a positive emotion triggered by the awareness of something much larger than the self and not immediately understandable, such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in a collective act such as a ceremony, concert, or demonstration," says Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
For the research, 52 healthy elders were recruited and each of these participants was asked to simply take a 15-minute walk each week for eight weeks. For half of the participants, the researchers also described the emotion of wonder and suggested trying to experience that emotion during their walks.
Participants filled out brief questionnaires after each walk, detailing the characteristics of the walk and the emotions they had experienced, including questions intended to assess their experience of wonder. The responses to the open-ended survey questions reflected the participants' growing sense of wonder and appreciation for the details of the world around them. In contrast, participants in the control walk group tended to be more inwardly focused.
The researchers also asked participants to take photos at the beginning, middle, and end of each walk. Analysis of these photos revealed a parallel and visible change in the way participants portrayed themselves: people in the astonishment group became smaller and smaller in their photos over the course of the study, preferring to show the landscapes around them. At the same time, the smiles on the participants' faces became more intense.
"This suggests that promoting the experience of wonder could be a very low-cost tool for improving the emotional health of older adults through a simple change in mindset," Sturm concludes.