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Study finds stress is contagious

Friday - 5/2/2014, 7:28pm  ET

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A study finds more people experience stress after watching loved ones in stress. (Thinkstock)

Omama Altaleb, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Feeling stressed? A new study finds stress can be contagious.

The Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universitšt Dresden conducted a study to see whether or not being around a stressed person can induce stress, TIME reports.

Researchers concluded that observing a stressed individual can release the stress hormone, cortisol, leading to empathic stress.

"The fact that we could actually measure this empathic stress in the form of a significant hormone release was astonishing," one of the study's authors, Veronika Engert says in a press release.

The stress tests given to subjects were comprised of difficult interviews and mental math problems. Behavior analysts examined how observers, watching through a one-way mirror, reacted to the subjects put under stress.

Some observers watched subjects via video. Analysts reported increased cortisol levels of 24 percent of the video observers.

"This means that even television programmes depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers," Engert says.

The findings:

  • 26 percent of observers experienced stress after watching loved ones in stress.
  • Cortisol increased in 10 percent of observers who watched stressed strangers.
Although emotional closeness to the observer made a difference in cortisol levels, the study concludes empathic stress can be experienced by strangers as well.

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