Exploring the social aspects of goose bumps and their role in awe and envy

David R. Schurtz, Sarai Blincoe, Richard H. Smith, Caitlin A.J. Powell, David J.Y. Combs, Sung Hee Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Both awe and envy are emotions that can result from observing a powerful other, but awe should stabilize social hierarchies while envy should undermine them. Three studies explored how the physiological reaction of goose bumps might help in understanding these distinctive reactions to powerful others, as goose bumps should be associated with awe rather than envy. In Study 1, participants kept a four-week journal and made a detailed entry each time they experienced goose bumps. Goose bumps resulting from the emotion of awe were the second most frequently occurring type after reactions to cold. Consistent with understanding awe as an emotional reaction to powerful or superior others (Keltner and Haidt in Cogn Emot 17:297-314, 2003), many of these experiences had social triggers. In Study 2, accounts of goose bumps resulting from exposure to powerful or superior others contained greater awe than envy. Also, the intensity of goose bumps was positively correlated with awe and negatively correlated with envy. In Study 3, accounts of awe contained more goose bumps than accounts of envy, and goose bumps were positively correlated with awe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-217
Number of pages13
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Awe
  • Envy
  • Goose bumps
  • Social emotions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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