Though it is not generally thought of by most people as a contagious disease, new research is suggesting that not only is stress transmittable from person to person, but that it actually may be as easy to catch as the common cold.
The research, which was conducted by psychologists at Saint Louis University, concluded that while stress can be “caught” from others like a contagious disease, it leads to “heroic behavior” in some people, according to MailOnline. The study, which examined the effects of “secondhand stress,” examined individuals who were observed by others while performing public speech or mental mathematical tasks. Researchers measured the levels of cortisol and stress-related enzymes in those who were observed, as well as individuals who were watching.
The team concluded that stress levels in observers were proportional to the levels experienced by the test subjects, pointing out that stress can be expressed by vocal tone, facial expression, and even posture. The researchers wrote that they have successfully demonstrated that “stress can be contagiously caught from targets to observers.”
Secondhand stress can be transferred from complete strangers, Yahoo News UK points out, and happens irrespective of gender. Neither men nor women were more likely to experience stress. Familiarity between subjects did play a role, however. The study concluded that people are four times more likely to “catch” secondhand stress from someone they already know.
Similar studies seem to have corroborated the team’s findings. In an experiment at the University of California, mothers were separated from their children and then heavily criticized, in order to ignite stress reactions. When they were reunited with their children, researchers observed that the kids developed significant signs of stress as well. As The Inquisitr has recently reported, an experiment by social website Facebook recently proved that emotions are contagious through networks of individuals.
“To find that in some people, some of the time, you can elicit these responses just by sitting and watching someone else under stress was somewhat surprising to us,” said associate Psychology professor Tony Buchanan, who was involved in the secondhand stress study.
The findings carry potentially large implications for health sciences, as chronic stress contributes to a number of diseases, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and depression. According to Sara Waters, lead researcher of the University of California study, “By knowing how this happens, we can start being mindful of both what we’re putting out, but also how people around us are affecting us,” a first step in properly managing contagious stress.
[Images via Yahoo News and ABC News]