Increased autonomic activation in vicarious embarrassment


We studied the somatovisceral response pattern of vicarious embarrassment for someone else's inappropriate condition. Participants (N=54) were confronted with hand-drawn sketches depicting public situations and were instructed to rate the intensity of their vicarious embarrassment. The inappropriate condition varied according to the attribution of intentionality (absent/present) and awareness (absent/present). Irrespective of these attributions, participants reported stronger vicarious embarrassment in comparison to neutral situations. Across a set of eleven somatovisceral variables vicarious embarrassment elicited a pattern of increased autonomic activation which was modulated by the awareness of the protagonist about the ongoing norm violation. The somatovisceral response pattern matches previous findings for the first-person experience of embarrassment. Together, these results support the hypothesis that processes of perspective taking also mediate the vicarious experience of embarrassment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)74-82
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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