About Hagioptasia

What is hagioptasia?


Hagioptasia (meaning ‘holy vision’) is a newly identified human emotion – the effects of its influence having previously been attributed as solely the products of the human intellect, the ‘heart’, and the ‘soul’. 

Like other evolved emotions – such as ‘fear’ and ‘aggression’ – hagioptasia is a psychological mechanism, passed down through our evolutionary heritage to direct our behaviour in particular ways. We experience hagioptasia in a very similar way to how we experience ‘fear’; like fear, hagioptasia is also excitable, compulsive, varying in intensity, socialised and attached to aspects of the world around us from infancy onwards. But while ‘fear’ can be an instinct of avoidance – a deep seated, abstract sense of ‘dread’ – hagioptasia is a drive that generates ‘appreciation’; an abstract sense of ‘specialness’ or ‘glory’.

Why would such an emotion exist & what evidence supports hagioptasia theory?

One area where we can see a clear purpose for a drive such as hagioptasia is in animal behaviours concerned with competition and hierarchy.  For an animal system of hierarchy to operate, a shared appreciation of ‘status’ must exist among its members, and as communal mammals ourselves, human beings are naturally obsessed with ‘status’.  But if we really are participating in our own ‘animal’ behavioural system based on ‘status’, do we really need to contemplate the value of a particular status symbol in order for it to become effective? After all, does a young male deer really consider the benefits of owning a large pair antlers before becoming excited by such a display? We humans have our complex languages, enabling us to contemplate and rationalise such concerns, but how can the other animals become so excited by the displays of high status within their own societies? Some kind of primal instinct is surely needed to compel the individual animal to be impressed by, and to value the signs of status employed by its own species; an abstract perception of desirability or ‘specialness’, which excites feelings of yearning, and can be attached to certain aspects of life as experienced by the animal from infancy.

Such an abstract sense of ‘specialness’ – or hagioptasia – is a significant feature of our own personal thoughts and feelings, as well as a prominent feature of human culture as a whole. Within our notions of religion, art, glamour, spirituality, nostalgia and romanticism an underlying, essential character of this illusory sense of  ‘specialness’ or ‘magic’ is a key feature.

In 2018 we collaborated with a recognised expert on computerised psychological measurement to create an online survey, which was completed by nearly 3000 participants. The results of the survey corresponded well with the theory of hagioptasia as being a driving influence in admiration of, and longing for achievement and recognition – traits which correspond with the hierarchical systems of communal mammals. The survey also showed that most participants recognised how everyday places or things from their early childhood still possessed a ‘magical’ quality for them. This finding clearly demonstrates the illusory nature of hagioptasia, its ‘attachment’, and how its lasting influence can override our more rational thinking, long into adulthood. From the data generated by the survey we can also see that hagioptasia can be measured reliably with a questionnaire, showing that it exists as a distinct emotion.

This video gives an introduction to hagioptasia theory: