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Stress weakens the capacity for empathy

Researchers have found why foreign people often have little empathy for each other: reason is the natural stress we get in contact with strangers. However, the empathy is very easy to increase.

EmpathyThe natural stress over the contact with strangers leads to decreased level of empathy. Therefore, the empathic related with experience pain of another friends and relatives is more pronounced than empathic with strangers. American scientists were able to prove these relationships.

“We have figured out why empathy between strangers is so rare,” says Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University in Montreal. “The reason is quite simply stress: it is social stress in the immediate closeness of a stranger.” From previous studies it was known that the physical proximity of a foreign counterparts can increase the levels of stress hormones. Therefore examined a possible link between stress and empathy.

With friends we suffer more.

First, the researchers observed this relationship in experiments with mice. Mice often react strongly to pain inflicted to another mouse. However, these empathic response applies only to familiar creatures- the fate of other mice for animals less interesting. The researchers were able to observe the behavior of the mice when they received the stress-relieving hormone – blocker metyrapone. It was found that the after injections of the drug mice response to the pain of other animals just like they would have been familiar with them for a long time.

The researchers found that this may also apply in case of humans. And really delivered corresponding tests with students who were either friends or were strangers, and scientists get the similar results. While one of the students had to put his hand in cold water, which causes pain, friends and strangers watched this process. Onlooking friends showed stronger reactions than strangers. But the foreign students gradually take the pain of others significantly higher, if they had taken metyrapone one hour before, which lowered the cortisol levels. In addition their mimic reactions and gesticulation brought condolences more pronounced.

From strangers to friends.

To reduce stress and build up between strangers a sense of familiarity, it takes time but not necessarily a chemical tutoring. Even 15 minutes of an common video game can satisfy it. So with the video game “Rock Band,” in which participants make music together, with each foreign students researchers get the same result as after the stress-relieving injection. A simple common game enough to classify a person from the “outgroup” in the “Group of Friends” and this opens possibility to feel more empathy, explain the study authors.

“It is fascinating that this phenomenon appears to be identical in mice and humans”. The study shows why empathy not often occur among strangers. “The secret is quite simple, namely the especially social stress of being next to a stranger.” The study also proves that mice are capable to complex social behavior. On the other hand it shows that social phenomena in humans might be easier than previously believed. The behavior has conserved across evolution of time, the researchers write in their journal article.