Can stress spread like a virus? What do animals tell us?




Yes, says neuroscientist Tony W. Buchanan, a professor at Saint Louis University. In 2010, he measured The response of people who were simply noticing stress in others. Buchanan found that observers’ cortisol levels rose via a phenomenon known as stress contagion — the spread of stress from person to person like a virus.

Now, more researchers are investigating whether this infection is visible throughout the animal kingdom.

Scientists hope to find out if stress can pass With fully distinct channels of squawks, squeaks and loud clicks. What they learned could help treat animals and shed light on the nature of stress in humans.

“They are trying to understand how these processes can occur simultaneously across different taxa in birds, in humans, in fish, in mice, so that you have the same phenomenon that occurs in very different species that evolved to a completely different level,” says the researchers. Psychology at McGill University in Montreal.

You may have suffered from a stress infection. A friend comes over to spend a few minutes complaining about his work or his partner. Suddenly, even though that’s not your problem, you’re breathing faster and feeling a little anxious.

That’s because, you listened, your body gave you a quick shot of adrenaline and cortisol — the hormones that mobilize your energy stores to run, fight, and finish projects on schedule. Heaps of research shows that over time, frequent jerks from stress lead to erosion body And the reproduction.

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Neuroscientist Jadeep Bynes studies how stress affects the brain.

In 2014, Bynes began investigating how this was done in his lab at the University of Calgary Stress is transmitted from one individual to another in mice. He found that a stressed mouse emits a pheromone from its anal glands, which is then inhaled by a nearby mouse.

“That kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?” Baines said. “If you think about what a mouse would do – it might be in the field and a predator chases it, and it goes back to the nest.

“The audio signal is likely to get attention, but a silent chemical signal, detected only by those very close to you, would be a great way to inform others that there is danger,” Baines added.

Bynes discovered that the neural connections in mice that smelled of stress pheromones would change to match the mice that experienced stress for the first time. So the brain of a mouse that smelled of a stressed mouse seems to be feeling stressed, too.

Next, “…we asked if a stressed rat could pass information on to a second rat, and whether who – which The mouse can then move it to else A mouse,” Baines said. “And it works beautifully. The third mouse shows the same changes in its brain.”

This has implications for humans as well. Like mice, we worry about others.

“We really think of ourselves as individuals with our own experiences,” Baines said. “And we don’t think too much about how other people’s experiences are shaped and what they’re going through as well.”

It is difficult to measure stress in wild animals outside of a neuroscience lab. Scientists are seen as predators by most species and trigger a stress response only through their presence. The animals leave traces of stress hormones in their feces and feathers, but these are not real-time samples. Trapping animals to test for blood hormones is in itself a stressful process for animals. However, new technology makes work easier.

Hanja Brandl of the University of Konstanz in Germany studies guinea fowl in Kenya using small implanted heart rate recorders combined with solar GPS trackers to monitor birds. How does stress pass from bird to bird?. Similar results studies She points out that stressed birds have a higher heart rate and, among other behaviors, tend to approach their flocks.

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Brandl and her colleagues also use video camera traps — cameras that are triggered by animal movements — and machine learning in other studies.

“Knowing who goes where and how often they eat can give evidence of stress,” Brandel says.

Machine learning is also giving scientists better data than hours of video. Before deep learning algorithms, Brandel had to stare at videos for long periods, counting sometimes ambiguous behaviors. Now, the algorithms pick up on the nuances.

“By giving the computer thousands and sometimes millions of data points, I let the computer decide,” she says.

Scientists have also noticed these groups Working together to relieve stress in anxious members. for example, Vampire bat Calm down the members of their social network by sharing food.

Research is already affecting animal husbandry. Studies have shown that Calves recover faster After removing the husks when they are allowed to return to their social group, the chicks benefit from being near their mothers after they have been subjected to mild stress.

“It’s so connected. … It’s like a kid having a little accident on the playground. With your mom there, you’ll probably be fine,” says Brandel.

Brandl A . Books Article review In this year’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B calls for further study of stress transmission in animals.

“More insights from research on animal social systems are needed to unravel the mechanisms and consequences of stress transmission,” she wrote. “Determining the extent to which stress transmission modifies animal populations is an important research avenue.”

“Right now, we’re just taking first steps, trying to understand how important stress transmission really is,” says Brandel. But with more study and more discoveries, “we can really modify any measures that will improve the welfare of animals in captivity and in the wild.”

Bishop Sand is an audio producer for The Washington Post.

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