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Catching Cold

Just looking at a cold person can lower your body temperature

Author Nicholas DeRenzo

factEveryone knows the common cold is contagious, but now researchers at the U.K.’s Brighton and Sussex Medical School have proved that feeling cold may be just as infectious. According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, in much the same way that seeing someone yawn will make you yawn yourself, watching a person exhibit signs of being cold will actually lower the viewer’s body temperature. Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Neil Harrison and his team measured the hand temperatures of 36 volunteers before showing them three-minute videos of actors putting their hands into visibly warm water (heated with steaming water from a kettle) or cold water (which included ice cubes). Amazingly, watching someone dip a hand into cold water caused the temperature of the volunteer’s corresponding hand to drop slightly. Harrison believes this so-called “temperature contagion” is a result of our nature as social animals. These minor physiological shifts, the thinking goes, can in turn lead to greater empathy. If, for example, we see someone outside shivering in the cold, we might be more inclined to invite her in or offer her a coat if we actually experience what she’s feeling. But before you bring a Polaroid of a cozy person wrapped in a blanket burrito out with you on the slopes, be warned: According to the study, temperature contagion seems to be a one-sided affair, with the warm-water videos having no discernible impact.

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