UV resonance Raman (UVRR) spectroscopy is used to probe changes in vibrational structure associated with cation–π interactions for the most prevalent amino acid π–donor, tryptophan. The model compound studied here is a diaza crown ether with two indole substituents. In the presence of sodium or potassium sequestered in the crown ether, or a protonated diaza group on the compound, the indole moieties participate in a cation–π interaction in which the pyrrolo group acts as the primary π-donor. Systematic shifts in relative intensity in the 760–780 cm−1 region are observed upon formation of this cation–π interaction; we propose that these modifications reflect shifts of the delocalized, ring-breathing W18 and hydrogen-out-of-plane (HOOP) vibrational modes in this spectral region. The observed changes are attributed to perturbations of the π-electron density as well as of normal modes that involve large displacement of the hydrogen atom on the C2 position of the pyrrole ring. Modest variations in the UVRR spectra for the three complexes studied here are correlated to differences in cation–π strength. Specifically, the UVRR spectrum of the sodium-bound complex differs from those of the potassium-bound or protonated-diaza complexes, and may reflect the observation that the C2 hydrogen atom in the sodium-bound complex exhibits the greatest perturbation relative to the other species. Normal modes sensitive to hydrogen-bonding, such as the tryptophan W10, W9, and W8 modes, also undergo shifts in the presence of the salts. These shifts reflect the strength of interaction of the indole NH group with the iodide or hexafluorophosphate counteranion. The current observation that the W18 and HOOP normal mode regions of the indole crown ether compound are sensitive to cation–pyrrolo π interactions suggests that this region may provide reliable spectroscopic evidence of these important interactions in proteins. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.