Self-Transcendent Positive Emotions as a Potential Mechanism Underpinning the Effects of Meaningful Psychedelic Experiences on Connectedness to Nature

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Emerging research suggests that the use of serotonergic psychedelics may increase feelings of connection with the natural world. However, little is known about why this might be the case. Psychedelics often elicit self-transcendent positive emotions (STPE), and recent work has provided preliminary evidence suggesting that several of these emotions may have a causal influence on people's feelings of connectedness to the nature world, even when they are not elicited by nature. The present study aimed at extending this research into the context of psychedelics with the twin aims of furthering understanding regarding (a) the effects of STPE on connectedness to nature and (b) the psychological mechanisms through which psychedelics may increase feelings of connection to the natural world. Using an online retrospective survey, participants (N = 236) who had had a meaningful psychedelic experience in their life completed measures of (a) the acute effects of the meaningful psychedelic experience; (b) dispositions to experience STPE and feelings of connection to nature before and after the experience. Acute psychedelic effects (mystical experiences, ego-dissolution, and STPE) predicted changes in dispositional STPE and changes in connectedness to nature. Differing patterns were found for cognitive and emotional components of connectedness to nature, with more of the STPE significantly predicting changes in cognitive connectedness to nature. Exploratory mediation analyses found a significant indirect effect of acute STPE on connectedness to nature through dispositional changes in these emotions. These findings suggest that acute experiences of STPE during psychedelic experiences may lead to downstream changes in the tendency to experience these emotions in day-to-day life, and these downstream changes in emotionality may have a role to play in why psychedelics may increase feelings of connection with the natural world.

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