London, May 1
Just like cold, stress can also be contagious and it matters only a little whether we have any relation with the stressed person that we may come in contact with or not, says a study.
“Even television programmes depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers,” said Veronika Engert of Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.
Observing another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make our own bodies release the stress hormone cortisol, the study noted.
Anyone who is confronted with the suffering and stress of another person, particularly when sustained, has a higher risk of being affected by it themselves.
“There must be a transmission mechanism via which the target’s state can elicit a similar state in the observer down to the level of a hormonal stress response,” Engert noted.
During the stress test, the participants had to struggle with difficult mental arithmetic tasks and interviews, while two supposed behavioural analysts assessed their performance.
The researchers found that 26 percent of observers who were not directly exposed to any stress whatsoever also showed a significant increase in cortisol.
The effect was particularly strong when observer and stressed individual were partners in a couple relationship (40 percent).
However, even when watching a complete stranger, the stress was transmitted to ten percent of the observers.
Accordingly, emotional closeness is a facilitator but not a necessary condition for the occurrence of empathic stress.