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Feeling cold is contagious, scientists find

Date:
January 13, 2015
Source:
University of Sussex
Summary:
Just looking at somebody shivering is enough to make us feel cold, new research has found. Volunteers who watched videos of people putting their hands in cold water found their own body temperature drop significantly, investigators report.
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"Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans' success results from our ability to work together in complex communities -- this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another's thoughts, feelings and motivations," authors write.
Credit: © djtaylor / Fotolia

Just looking at somebody shivering is enough to make us feel cold, according to new research at the University of Sussex in the UK.

Volunteers who watched videos of people putting their hands in cold water found their own body temperature drop significantly.

The research by scientists in the Brighton and Sussex Medical School shows that humans are susceptible to 'temperature contagion'.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Neil Harrison, who led the research, suggests that such unconscious physiological changes may help us empathise with one another and live in communities.

He said: "Mimicking another person is believed to help us create an internal model of their physiological state which we can use to better understand their motivations and how they are feeling."

"Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans' success results from our ability to work together in complex communities -- this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another's thoughts, feelings and motivations."

For the research, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, 36 participants each watched eight videos of actors putting their hands in either visibly warm or cold water. At the same time, the temperature of their own hands was measured. Their hands were significantly colder when watching the 'cold' videos. However, the 'warm' videos did not cause a change.

Dr Harrison explains: "We think that this is probably because the warm videos were less potent -- the only cues that the water was warm was steam at the beginning of the videos and the pink colour of the actor's hand (whereas blocks of ice were clearly visible throughout the duration of the cold video).

"There is also some evidence to suggest that people may be more sensitive to others appearing cold than hot."


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Sussex. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ella A. Cooper, John Garlick, Eric Featherstone, Valerie Voon, Tania Singer, Hugo D. Critchley, Neil A. Harrison. You Turn Me Cold: Evidence for Temperature Contagion. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (12): e116126 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116126

Cite This Page:

University of Sussex. "Feeling cold is contagious, scientists find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150113145240.htm>.
University of Sussex. (2015, January 13). Feeling cold is contagious, scientists find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 27, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150113145240.htm
University of Sussex. "Feeling cold is contagious, scientists find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150113145240.htm (accessed July 27, 2016).

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