SCIENCE
01/16/2015 01:39 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Feeling Cold? It Could Be Contagious

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We all know that catching a cold (you know, as in a virus) is contagious, but according to new research, you can also catch physical chills.

University of Sussex researchers found that just looking at someone who is shivering may be enough to cause an observer to feel cold -- a phenomenon known as "temperature contagion."

In the experiment, the researchers had 36 participants watch eight videos of actors dunking their hands into either visibly warm or visibly cold water. At the same time, the researchers measured the temperature of the participants' hands. They found that while the warm videos did not cause any change in temperature, the participants' hand temperatures were significantly colder when watching the cold videos.

The researchers suggest that these unconscious physiological changes occur as a way of helping us to empathize with others and to better understand how they're feeling.

"Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans' success results from our ability to work together in complex communities," neuropsychiatrist Dr. Neil Harrison said in a statement. "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."

Feeling chilly is just one of many feelings and behaviors that can be passed along in a contagious manner. Yawning, feeling fear and disgust, stress, and (to a certain extent) unethical behavior.

"During social interactions, our own physiological responses influence those of others," Harrison and colleagues explain. "Synchronization of physiological (and behavioral) responses can facilitate emotional understanding and group coherence."

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