You experience admiration for a person who is very good at a something that you find important. For example, when a track runner breaks the world record; when you see a coworker give a convincing presentation without breaking a sweat; or when you think of your friend who seems to have the perfect family life. You can also admire a more generic entity, like a profession (e.g., admiring professional athletes for their commitment), a community, culture, or a country (e.g., admiring the Chinese culture for its extremely sophisticated eating culture). Admiration can be directed at others’ extraordinary natural talent or hard-earned skill (e.g., the ability to perform an amazing football trick1 2), result of high skill/competence (e.g., being very rich and powerful2), a certain disposition (e.g., positive attitude in the face of adversity3) – and usually a combination of these.
What is considered ‘extraordinary’ competence also depends on one’s personal skills, standards, and levels of interest for the specific skills/talents. For example, if you excel at math or do not care about it at all, you may not admire a math genius. Moreover, in order to feel admiration, you need to like the person to some degree and feel that they ‘deserve’ their excellence, otherwise you would more likely feel envy or even resentment. The social, cultural and personal settings and values can also have an important influence: in a group, the in-group standards establish what evokes admiration.
In a direct sense, admiration is a captivating social emotion that puts the focus on the other: you want to know more about the person that you admire and strengthen your bond with them. You perceive the admired person in a positive light and notice additional positive things about them, beyond those that trigger your admiration. It also motivates self-improvement: you strive for the excellence you witnessed through ’emulation’*2. In addition, admiration can promote the skill or value that is displayed.
*Archer4 published three objections to emulation theory: (1) it struggles to accommodate for the fact that we can experience admiration for non-human entities; (2) it struggles to accommodate for typical cases of admiration for other people (e.g., I admire South Pole explorers, but have no wish to emulate them; (3) it fails to explain the plurality of responses that can be appropriate when one admires someone or something. However, Archer does not make a distinction between admiration and elevation, and some examples pertain more to awe.
Admiration motivates and energizes us to work harder and/or to focus our efforts. It may also be an important emotion for learning, especially through emulation5. For example, after seeing their star football player perform in the finals, children go outside to practice their own skills. However, emulation should not be taken too literally: you may admire North Pole explorers, but that does not mean you wish to follow in their footsteps; you admire their skills and virtues (willpower, perseverance, self-reliance) and wish to emulate those in a more everyday setting.
Like gratitude, elevation, and worship, admiration is one of the ‘other-praising’ emotions. On the negative side, the same trigger can evoke shame or even self-hate, due to negative self-evaluation in comparison to the admired person (e.g., “He is 10 years younger than me and has already had much more impact. I’m such a loser …”). Moreover, you can feel envy, as opposed to admiration, especially if you do not like the other person, and if you believe that the excellence is also attainable to yourself to some degree. However, some believe that self-improvement is actually promoted by benign envy, not admiration6.
Admiration is also similar to elevation, in that both are a response to the excellence of others. The key difference is that admiration occurs as a response to non-moral excellence, whereas elevation is a response to moral excellence. Another close emotion is inspiration: both inspire us to take action and work harder. And lastly, pride could be considered a form of self-admiration.
In most social contexts, admiration is seen as an honorable emotion, as long as the admired skills and virtues are seen as honorable. Parents and educators may promote children to think of admirable role models and ‘heroes’ as a way to get inspired and strive for excellence. However, children may also look up to people that adults do not find admirable, if they exhibit the values that children care about (e.g., entertainment skills and popularity of a rock star). In this case, admiration can be seen as harmful.