Journal Article

Second-hand stress: inhalation of stress sweat enhances neural response to neutral faces

Denis Rubin, Yevgeny Botanov, Greg Hajcak and Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi

in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Volume 7, issue 2, pages 208-212
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 1749-5016
Published online January 2011 | e-ISSN: 1749-5024 | DOI:
Second-hand stress: inhalation of stress sweat enhances neural response to neutral faces

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This study investigated whether human chemosensory-stress cues affect neural activity related to the evaluation of emotional stimuli. Chemosensory stimuli were obtained from the sweat of 64 male donors during both stress (first-time skydive) and control (exercise) conditions, indistinguishable by odor. We then recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) from an unrelated group of 14 participants while they viewed faces morphed with neutral-to-angry expressions and inhaled nebulized stress and exercise sweat in counter-balanced blocks, blind to condition. Results for the control condition ERPs were consistent with previous findings: the late positive potential (LPP; 400–600 ms post stimulus) in response to faces was larger for threatening than both neutral and ambiguous faces. In contrast, the stress condition was associated with a heightened LPP across all facial expressions; relative to control, the LPP was increased for both ambiguous and neutral faces in the stress condition. These results suggest that stress sweat may impact electrocortical activity associated with attention to salient environmental cues, potentially increasing attentiveness to otherwise inconspicuous stimuli.

Keywords: emotion; attention; event-related potential; late positive potential; pheromones

Journal Article.  2626 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience

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