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  Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by emotional closeness and observation modality

Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., & Singer, T. (2014). Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by emotional closeness and observation modality. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 45, 192-201. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.005.

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Item Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-FB7D-7 Version Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-FB7E-6
Genre: Journal Article

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 Creators:
Engert, Veronika1, Author              
Plessow, Franziska2, 3, Author
Miller, Robert2, Author
Kirschbaum, Clemens2, Author
Singer, Tania1, Author              
Affiliations:
1Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634552              
2Department of Psychology, TU Dresden, Germany, ou_persistent22              
3Department of Neurology, Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, ou_persistent22              

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Free keywords: Vicarious stress; Stress resonance; Empathy; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; Cortisol
 Abstract: Stress disorders are among the most commonly occurring of all mental disorders. In this context, the question arises whether the stress inevitably unfolding around us has the potential to “contaminate” and compromise us. In the current multi-center study, we investigate the existence of such empathic stress (defined as a full-blown physiological stress response that arises solely by observing a target undergo a stressful situation), and whether empathic stress permeates to the core of the stress system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Additionally, we investigate whether empathic stress responses may be modulated by the familiarity between observer and target (partners vs. strangers), the modality of observation (real-life vs. virtual) and observer sex (female vs. male). Participants were tested in dyads, paired with a loved one or a stranger of the opposite sex. While the target of the dyad (n = 151) was exposed to a psychosocial stressor, the observer (n = 211) watched through a one-way mirror or via live video transmission. Overall, 26% of the observers displayed physiologically significant cortisol increases. This empathic stress was more pronounced in intimate observer-target dyads (40%) and during the real-life representation of the stressor (30%). Empathic stress was further modulated by interindividual differences in empathy measures. Despite the higher prevalence of empathic stress in the partner and real-life observation conditions, significant cortisol responses also emerged in strangers (10%) and the virtual observation modality (24%). The occurrence of empathic stress down to the level of HPA-axis activation, in some cases even in total strangers and when only virtually witnessing another's distress, may have important implications for the development of stress-related diseases.

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Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2014-03-122013-10-042014-04-072014-04-162014-07
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Method: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.005
PMID: 24845190
Other: Epub 2014
 Degree: -

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Title: Psychoneuroendocrinology
Source Genre: Journal
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Publ. Info: -
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 45 Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 192 - 201 Identifier: ISSN: 0306-4530
CoNE: /journals/resource/954925514499