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.
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