3 Reasons Why Solar Eclipses Enthrall Us All

Just as our ancestors did, we just can't help but marvel at the cosmos. Here's why.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 15, 2024

The unique darkness of a total solar eclipse is not the same as the pitch-blackness of the night sky but a surreal twilight that changes our daylight world into something extraordinary for a few minutes. Its cooler shadows behave differently and colors, too, appear strangely muted. This makes the experience unforgettable and deeply moving, as was widely reported during the 2017 eclipse.

A 2022 study published in Psychological Science analyzed nearly 3 million Twitter (now X) posts following the 2017 eclipse to find a significant increase in expressions of awe, prosocial behavior and a stronger sense of community among people.

Here's what is likely in store for those witnessing the 2024 total solar eclipse, especially those lucky enough to be in the path of totality.

1. It Can Bring About A Collective Sense Of Wonder

The experience of witnessing a total solar eclipse has been described as an overwhelming collective moment of awe, a sensation that makes you feel part of something far greater and more mysterious than yourself. This feeling of awe arises from encountering phenomena that challenge our usual understanding of the world, making us rethink our place within the universe.

Michael Stevens, the brain behind the popular YouTube channel Vsauce, wonderfully recounted his experience of totality to Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day: "That morning when I woke up, knowing that it was about to happen in just a matter of hours, I became very scared. I think it had something to do with knowing that it was such a big event involving such big things that were so vital to our lives and also that I could not stop it."

Across diverse cultures, eclipses have inspired myths and legends, symbolizing moments of profound transformation or great power. Whether it's a meteor shower or an eclipse, these cosmic events historically prompt people to gather, share stories and marvel at the wonders of the cosmos.

While solar eclipses have historically been revered and feared, modern studies indicate a more collective positive impact on society. Following the 2017 solar eclipse, research showed increased harmony and a sense of community among us.

2. It Can Remind Us Of The Universality Of Human Experience

Experiencing a total solar eclipse can deeply affect one's perspective, often leading to a heightened sense of humility, according to the 2017 study. This awe, sparked by the majesty of the eclipse, could encourage us to extend our awareness beyond everyday, personal concerns.

Researchers have found that individuals caught in the moment tend to use language that reflects a greater acknowledgment of their own limitations and a broader appreciation for the somewhat paradoxical universality of human experience.

Think of it like this: Each person might interpret a piece of music differently based on their personal history, emotions and cultural background, yet the music itself becomes a universal language that transcends these individual differences, uniting listeners in a shared moment of appreciation or emotion.

The upcoming solar eclipse acts on a grander scale, uniting people not just in emotion but in a collective physical experience. Everyone in the path of totality will experience the same dramatic dimming of the day, the cooling of the air and the awe-inspiring sight of the eclipse itself, at the same moment. This is powerful.

Moreover, the eclipse has tangible social benefits, encouraging prosocial behavior among those who experience it. Those within the eclipse's path often show a heightened willingness to help others, signaling a stronger community spirit and a sense of connection with those around them.

This inclination toward positive, community-focused behavior underscores the profound social impact of witnessing such cosmic events, with individuals more likely to express positivity and a sense of belonging to a larger community.

The Sense Of Wonder And A Better World

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that experiencing awe, which is a feeling of wonder in response to something vast and beyond our usual understanding, can lead to more selfless and caring behavior.

The study found that people who are naturally more prone to feeling awe tend to be generous and are more likely to make ethical decisions and value helping others. Even being surrounded by tall trees induced a sense of awe, making people more willing to help others and less focused on their own entitlements.

It's vital to remember that awe-inspiring moments can be found not only in grand celestial events like solar eclipses or meteor showers but also in the little wonders of daily life. By observing nature's marvels, embracing the present moment, seeking out new experiences and fostering meaningful connections, we can cultivate a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world around us, enriching our lives in the process.

Are you more interested in the eclipse than your friends? This scale might help explain why: Openness To Experience Scale

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.