Stress is as Contagious as the Common Cold

Researchers at two universities are confirming what many of us probably already believed about stress -- it's highly, highly contagious.

What's the Latest?


Researchers at both St. Louis University and the University of California - San Francisco have found proof of what many of us probably already believed about stress -- it's highly contagious. The SLU study focused on the concept of secondhand stress. In their experiment, subjects were forced to watch stressful situations such as a man defending himself against false accusation. The researchers found that viewers "caught" the defendant's stress, evidenced by heightened cortisol levels in both. The UCSF study similarly found stress to be contagious, this time between babies and their mothers:

“Our research shows that infants ‘catch’ and embody the physiological residue of their mothers’ stressful experiences,” [said] lead researcher Sara Waters.

What's the Big Idea?

Scientists have long wondered about the mechanics of how emotions transfer from one person to another. The researchers at SLU came to the conclusion that stress is carried through the senses -- from facial expressions and body language to the nuances of speech. Although stress can transferred between strangers, both studies found the link to be greater between family members. The UCSF study found that mothers placed under stressful conditions would transfer those feelings upon being reunited with their infants, proving that it doesn't take mature brainpower to contract feelings of anxiety. Like the SLU researchers, the team at UCSF believe stress travels through the senses -- in this instance, through touch.

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