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Penn psychologists study ‘overview effect’ of Earth from space


Washington : If you picture Earth at the center of a frame, it looks unassuming with a fleck -white marbling stark against a black interstellar backdrop.

Astronauts who experience Earth from orbit often report feelings of awe and wonder, of being transformed by what they describe as the magic such a perspective brings.

This phenomenon is called the “overview effect,” and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center are studying it to better understand the emotions astronauts commonly recount.

To understand the overview effect, researchers analyzed excerpts from astronauts from all over the world who documented viewing Earth from space. Themes emerged from the quotes, ideas like unity, vastness, connectedness, perception, in general, this sense of an overwhelming, life-changing moment.

The research specialty is such self-transcendent or spiritual experiences. Most often, he said, they come entangled in a religious context, but not for astronauts.

Not only that, but the experiences can be duplicated.

Part of that answer could result from a planned follow-up experiment using virtual reality that gives participants the chance to Earth-gaze. This could result in an experience similar to the overview effect.

The researchers also say psychology should be part of the equation for extended space missions, and they hope to create concrete recommendations for maintenance of astronaut well being long-term. In their estimation, the overview effect, a positive process already occurring in space flight, can help.

They’re looking to the private sector, to groups like SpaceX, Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic, as an interim step to get there. But ideally, they’re aiming to collaborate with astronauts already back from space and those on their way up.

This study has been published by Psychology of Consciousness. (ANI)

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