A study, conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, has discovered that stress experienced by a character in a TV show can be passed on to viewers.
This is a more extreme example of how being in the presence of a person under stress can make others feel under pressure.
Researches of the study highlighted in particular the range of psychological issues that can derive from constant stress – including depression and anxiety.
They also noted that people leading fairly stress-free lives are just as susceptible to the impact people under stress can have – especially if they regularly come into contact with these types of people, either at work or on TV shows.
The study – published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology – involved 422 participants who were paired with loved ones and strangers of the opposite sex, then divided into two groups.
One group was given challenging arithmetic questions and interviewed to induce direct stress.
The group of observers watched the test and interviews through a one-way mirror and over video transmissions. As expected, 95% of the participants placed under direct pressure showed signs of stress.
The impact of stress was particularly high when a subject was observing a romantic partner in a stressful situation (40%), and 30% experienced a stressful response when they watched the events live.
Significantly, despite the lack of urgency, 24% of observers felt under stress when they watched the events take place over the video.
Dr Veronika Engert, one of the study’s authors, said:
“This means that even television programmes depicting the suffering of other people can transmit that stress to viewers.”
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