Susceptibility to others' emotions moderates immediate self-reported and biological stress responses to witnessing trauma

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



BACKGROUND: The peri-traumatic stress response is a strong predictor of symptom development after trauma exposure. Regarding witnessing trauma, the stress response might depend on the susceptibility to others' emotions (emotional contagion, EC). This study investigated whether EC moderates the immediate stress response using a trauma film paradigm.

METHODS: Ninety-five healthy participants were randomly exposed to a trauma or a neutral film. Perceived stressfulness of the film and pre-to post-film changes in self-reported anxiety, heart rate and saliva cortisol levels were assessed. EC towards negative and positive emotions was measured using the emotional contagion scale and its emotion-specific subscales.

RESULTS: Overall, the trauma film was perceived as distressing and elicited an increase in self-reported anxiety, heart rate and saliva cortisol levels relative to the neutral film. EC towards negative emotions was positively related to the perceived stressfulness of the film, increased anxiety and increased heart rate. The association with saliva cortisol levels was also in the expected direction, but not statistically significant. These associations were not found for EC towards positive emotions.

DISCUSSION: EC towards negative emotions may be an important predictor of trauma exposure outcomes. Further research should clarify its specific contribution in witnessing and undergoing trauma.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-63
Number of pages9
Journal Behaviour research and therapy
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2018

External IDs

researchoutputwizard legacy.publication#81208
researchoutputwizard legacy.publication#81402
researchoutputwizard legacy.publication#82043
Scopus 85053754432



  • Analogue study, Anxiety, Cortisol, Emotional contagion, Heart rate, Stress, Trauma, Trauma film paradigm

Library keywords