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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Dec 17. pii: S0306-4530(18)30596-1. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.12.221. [Epub ahead of print]

Embodied stress: The physiological resonance of psychosocial stress.

Author information

1
Max Planck Project Group Social Stress and Family Health, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany. Electronic address: engert@cbs.mpg.de.
2
Max Planck Project Group Social Stress and Family Health, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
3
Max Planck Research Group Pain Perception, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.

Abstract

Psychosocial stress is a ubiquitous phenomenon in our society. While acute stress responses are necessary and adaptive, excessive activation of neurobiological stress systems can predispose an individual to far-reaching adverse health outcomes. Living in a complex social environment, experiencing stress is not limited to challenges humans face individually. Possibly linked with our capacity for empathy, we also display the tendency to physiologically resonate with others' stress responses. This recently identified source of stress raises many interesting questions. In comparison to the wealth of studies that have advanced our understanding of sharing others' affective states, the physiological resonance of stress has only recently begun to be more closely investigated. The aim of the current paper is to review the existing literature surrounding the emerging area of "stress contagion", "empathic stress" or "stress resonance", as it has been variably called. After a brief introduction of the concepts of stress and empathy, we discuss several key studies that paved the way for the merging of empathy with the concept of physiological resonance. We then delineate recent empirical studies specifically focusing on the physiological resonance of stress. In the final section of this review, we highlight differences between these studies and discuss the variability in terminology used for what seems to be the same phenomenon. Lastly, potential health implications of chronic empathic stress are presented and possible mechanisms of physiological stress transmission are discussed.

KEYWORDS:

Contagion; Cortisol; Empathic stress; Empathy; Resonance; Sympathetic nervous system

PMID:
30594324
DOI:
10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.12.221
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