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Piloerection does not indicate awe

Abstract

In scientific and popular literature, piloerection (e.g. goosebumps) is often claimed to accompany the experience of awe, though this correlation has not been tested empirically. Using two pre-registered and independently collected samples (N = 210), we examined the objective physiological occurrence of piloerection in response to awe-inducing stimuli. Stimuli were selected to satisfy three descriptors of awe, including perceptual vastness, virtual reality, and expectancy-violating events. The stimuli reliably elicited self-reported awe to a great extent, in line with previous research. However, awe-inducing stimuli were not associated with the objective occurrence of piloerection. While participants self-reported high levels of goosebumps and “the chills,” there was no physical evidence of this response. These results suggest that piloerection is not reliably connected to the experience of awe—at least using stimuli known to elicit awe in an experimental setting.



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