Stressed people show less empathy towards strangers

A new study has demonstrated that stress is a major factor to find empathy.

ANI| Last Updated: Jan 17, 2015, 00:33 AM IST

Washington: A new study has demonstrated that stress is a major factor to find empathy.

The study suggested that a drug that blocks stress hormones increases the ability of college students and mice to feel the pain of a stranger and that phenomenon, known as "emotional contagion of pain" is one form of empathy.

Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, said that they found what in some sense might be thought of as the secret to empathy, that is, what prevents it from occurring more often between strangers and the secret is quite simply stress, and in particular the social stress of being in close proximity with a stranger.

Mogil and his colleagues treated male mice with a stress hormone-blocker called metyrapone and watched their response to the pain of other mice and they found that the drug allowed greater empathy as mice began reacting to strangers in a manner normally reserved for familiar cagemates. In other tests, the researchers found that when they put mice under stress, the mice showed less empathy when their peers were in pain. In other words, biochemical changes related to stress were preventing emotional contagion in the animals.

Mogil said that it is quite intriguing indeed that this phenomenon appears to be identical in mice and humans as firstly it supports the notion that mice are capable of more complex social phenomena than is commonly believed. Second, it suggests that human social phenomena might actually be simpler than commonly believed, at least in terms of their organizing principles.

The study is published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.