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Could Feeling Cold Be Contagious?

It is common knowledge that an illness like the flu or a cold is contagious. We protect ourselves by sneezing into the crack of our elbows, and even covering our mouths with masks. But it turns out that actually feeling physically cold can spread perhaps just as easily as a virus.

Researchers at the University of Sussex discovered a human trait that had not yet been explored called "temperature contagion." This is when seeing another person shiver can cause someone to feel cold as well. In order to test this, the researchers conducted an experiment in order to find out if this phenomenon had merit.

In the experiment, participants watched footage of hands dipping into obviously warm or cold water. While watching, the researchers measure their hand temperatures. Overall, when a volunteer would see footage featuring warm water, there would be no change in their hand temperature. Surprisingly, when participants would see cold footage, their physical hand temperatures would drop. 

The scientists believe that this event is a way that the human brain connects with another, in a form of empathy. While it may be unconscious to us at the time, our brain is already working to understand how a stranger feels. This shows how incredible the mind can be, and how much we as a people do not yet know.

"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," said Dr. Neil Harrison, co-author of the study.

This is not the only example of a physical or emotional feeling being contagious. Studies have been done on how stress can spread among friends and families, even online. In addition, research shows that physical actions like yawning can also be contagious. The idea of a "group mentality" and a shared consciousness has been looked at as well, especially among specific groups such as soccer hooligans in Europe.

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

So the next time you're standing in line at the supermarket and you see someone come in from outside wiping snow off of their coat, do not be surprised if you feel a quick chill. It turns out that the temperatures could be contagious.

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