Second Hand Stress from Strangers and People You Know — May Be More Influential Than You Think


ABC News’ Nikki Battiste takes a look at how people are affected by others’ stress with Saint Louis University Associate Professor of Psychology Tony Buchanan (Google Scholar profile).

Researchers seem to be finding some convincing result about how the stress of others affect your own stress. Research has shown that stress is passed on by facial expressions, voice frequency, odor and touch. The stress can be transmitted from a stranger, but stress transmission is four times more likely from someone the the observer knows.

ABC News reports on research at Saint Louis University and University of California, San Francisco, where researchers found that even children can “catch” stress.

Researchers at Saint Louis University are also studying the effect of observing stress on helping behavior which refers to voluntary actions intended to help the others, whether reward is regarded or disregarded. It is a type of prosocial behavior (voluntary action intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals Researchers area asking, “Does observing stress in others increase stress in the observer and does that observed stress influence helping behavior?”

According to researchers at the Cognitive Neuroscience of Stress Lab at Saint Louis University, when we see someone in pain or under stress we (sometimes) feel bad for them and (sometimes) try to help them.

What are the neural and physiological bases for these matching responses and the decision to help others? These are the questions Saint Louis University researchers and graduate students hope to address in their work in collaboration with Dr. Stephanie Preston, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan. The research work is funded by the Templeton Foundation’s Positive Neuroscience Initiative.

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