Sweat Study: Stressed People May Signal Others Silently

The overt signs of stress aren’t always verbal. Most people are able to identify a stressed person, through several cues such as body language, facial expression, and other factors that typically are associated with being anxious or feeling as if under great pressure. There may be another, and potentially more powerful element, however in identifying those who are feeling stressed. Importantly, this element may have more of a contagious impact on groups of people than most would expect. There have been scores of studies performed on sweat, but a recent project published in the peer-reviewed journal PloS One has used the substance in an attempt to see how “stressed sweat” plays a role in social interactions.

The method by which the researchers collected this stressed sweat may seem a bit over the top, but most can agree that a first-time stint of skydiving is a fairly reliable way of ensuring that any collected sweat has been taken from someone experiencing stress. After obtaining a sufficient amount of this precious resource, the researchers returned to the lab and presented a series of participants with both stressed and non-stressed sweat, observing reactions via brain scans.

The results of the study showed that there was a significant increase in activity in the amygdala while smelling and coming into contact with the stressed sweat. This may signal that simply being in the presence of a stressed person can have a residual, contagious effect on personal mood and thought patterns. While pheromones and other components in sweat remain imprecisely understood by modern science, the quest to discover more about the potential to be influenced by the states of others is likely to continue, and is sure to bring useful tools to the mental health fields as it progresses.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • David


    September 1st, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    Well, we knew that body language does tell a lot about what is going on in a person’s mind, but sweat? It is indeed fascinating to know that a person sweats differently under stress; “stressed sweat” to be precise … You may lie, but your body doesn’t ;)

  • Martin


    September 1st, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    it is possible to read about body language and by observing more and more people,one may become pretty efficient in reading people through their body language.But the same cannot be said about stressed sweat for obvious reasons. So, this find seems to be only a fact for knowledge, but is not something that can be practically used.

  • Sandy


    September 2nd, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    And we thought that only dogs could smell fear. Seems that humans have the same ability.

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