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Jan 14, 2015 01:17 PM EST

Feeling Cold May Be Contagious


Just looking at somebody shivering could be enough to make you feel cold, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Sussex found that humans are susceptible to "temperature contagion." They suggest that such unconscious physiological changes may help people empathize with one another and live in communities.

"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," Dr. Neil Harrison, who led the study, said in a statement. "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 study, 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.

"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 color of the actor's hand (whereas blocks of ice were clearly visible throughout the duration of the cold video)," Harrison explained. "There is also some evidence to suggest that people may be more sensitive to others appearing cold than hot."

The findings are detailed in the journal PLoS ONE.

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