CLEMSON, South Carolina — In ancient times, total solar eclipses were known to terrify people who were bewildered by what was happening — without warning — in the sky. While modern day science has quieted these fears, our perceptions of a total solar eclipse are still likely to differ from person to person and place to place.

Forming new understandings of these perceptual anomalies is the core of a new study by Clemson University psychology professor Cynthia Pury and graduate student Darlene Edewaard in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences. The researchers are inviting the entire American public — from west to east coasts — to participate in a series of online surveys before and after viewing the Aug. 21 “Great American Eclipse.” The results of the study will give Pury and Edewaard an in-depth look into how people respond, visually and emotionally, to the phenomenon.

Headshot of Cynthia Pury.

Pury is leading a study that will track the public’s response to the Aug. 21 eclipse.
Image Credit: Pete Martin / Clemson University

“Darlene is graduate student in our human factors psychology program. She studies vision and she is interested in thinking about the eclipse in terms of people’s actual visual perception of it,” Pury said. “I’m a positive psychologist, meaning that I study people’s positive emotional experiences and strengths.”

The eclipse provides Pury with an ideal opportunity to study positive emotions during one of the most astounding, once-in-a-lifetime events any human being will ever experience.

“To my knowledge, this will be the first time that awe — a profound emotional experience that people have in response to breathtaking natural phenomena and life-changing events — is studied through a very particular experience that we’re all sharing at the same time,” Pury said.

Not only will the results be “pretty cool,” according to Pury, but they will give onlookers throughout the country a chance to deeply ponder their own experiences.

Anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to participate in the online surveys, which will come in four parts. The first survey, to be taken before the eclipse reaches the West Coast, asks about viewers’ expectations and personal world views. A second, shorter survey will be issued after the eclipse concludes on the East Coast to gauge viewers’ feelings after the spectacle. Pury and Edewaard will follow up with a third survey about two to three weeks after the eclipse, and then a final survey in October.

Participants are free to leave questions unanswered and they can withdraw from the study at any time. The only requirement for participation is a valid email address so that the researchers can link participant responses over time. Pury and Edewaard emphasize that eclipse viewing safety is of high importance for involvement in the study: participants should wear certified eclipse shades and ensure that their viewing equipment is protected against the damaging rays of the sun.

The first survey in the study can be accessed at clemson.edu/eclipse/survey. Questions can be directed to Pury at cpury@clemson.edu.

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