Stress Can Spread Between Strangers

Even through a TV screen: study
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2014 6:14 AM CDT
Stress Can Spread Between Strangers
Stress can spread between strangers, a study finds.   (Shutterstock)

Stress, it seems, is contagious—even when we don't know the anxious person we're witnessing. So suggests a new study, which paired observers and stressed-out people of the opposite sex. Stress was induced via math problems and interviews. Some of the observers knew and loved their partners in the study; to others, assigned partners were complete strangers. Some 26% of observers experienced a boost in cortisol, indicating stress, Time reports. That included 10% of people paired with strangers under duress, says a press release.

"The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing," says a study author. The empathic stress occurred in 30% of observers watching the stressful situation through a one way mirror—but another 24% of observers experienced it when they were simply watching the event on video. Both men and women were equally affected by empathic stress, RT notes. "Even television programs depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers," says a study author. (Another recent finding related to stress? You probably have more of it if you live in a rich nation.)

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