A study led by Canadian researchers showed that stress is not something we experience alone, but it is something that is transmitted to those that surround us. But why?
Two researchers from Calgary University in Canada conducted a study on mice, in which a mouse would be exposed to a stressful situation, and then placed in a cage with another (unstressed) mouse in order to observe their behaviour.
Stress is contagious
The mice who were subjected to the stressful situation presented with brain modifications in the area that manages stress. However, the companion mice presented with the same brain modifications, even though they hadn’t been exposed to the stressful situation. The second mouse experienced the same level of emotion as the first mouse.
The researchers also showed that the state of communal stress lasted several days.
The neurons responsible for stress
According to the two researchers, our neurons play an important role in stress management. In fact, the researchers modified the stress neurons in the mice in order to be able to switch them on and off. While these neurons in the unstressed mice were switched off, they didn’t feel any of their companions’ stress.
This study seems to show that during moments of stress, neurons release a chemical signal (a pheromone), which is often discussed in research on sexual attraction.
Females were less stressed
This research also shows that the mice’s gender played a role in the management of and response to stress. In fact, the female mice were 50% less distressed after having shared their stress with their unstressed companions. This was not the case for the males, who maintained the same levels of stress despite “sharing” it.
This study, although it doesn’t yet answer all of the researchers’ questions, could be a starting point for research on treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or the management of autism.