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Surprising Science

Stress Dictates How Much We Empathize with Strangers

How you empathize with a stranger all depends on how stressed you are in that moment. A recent study shows that stress hormones have the power to "veto" our empathic abilities.

When someone else is in pain mice and humans share the ability to empathize with what their fellows are feeling. However, when under stress that feeling of empathy could become lost, according to a new study.

The BBC reported on the study, where researchers used human participants and mice to back their findings, which were publish in Current Biology.

The mice were given a stress-blocking drug, after which researchers watched how they responded to other, unfamiliar mice in pain. The mice, reacted to the stanger-mice in pain as they would to a mouse that was familiar to them. However, when put under stress the mice held less empathy toward a mouse that wasn’t familiar to them.

The study showed the exact same reaction in humans who took the stress-reducing drug. In this case, student participants were asked watch an actor plunging his hand into ice-cold water for 30 seconds. Researchers monitored their reactions, noting they touched their corresponding hand, and if another recent study is any indication that hand might have even dropped in temperature. Researchers noted that those who didn’t take the drug had a less dramatic reaction towards the actor plunging his hand in the icy water.

The stress center of the brain has the power to override our empathic abilities, according to Dr. Jeffrey Mogil, the study’s author and Neuroscientist from McGill University in Canada. He says that whenever humans are in a room with someone they don’t know, there’s a stress response. But he says this stress can quickly dissipate with an ice-breaking game. The researchers used one on their participants called Rock Band.

Read more at BBC

Photo Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock


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