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.
Increased autonomic activation in vicarious embarrassment. Müller-Pinzler L, Paulus FM, Stemmler G, Krach S. Int J Psychophysiol. 2012 Oct;86(1):74-82. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2012.07.183. Epub 2012 Aug 1.