Professor Elaine Hatfield, a psychologist from the University of Hawaii, discovered that stress can be as contagious as a cold, and that "passive" or second-hand stress and
can quickly spread around the workplace.
"People seem to be capable of mimicking others' facial, vocal, and postural expressions with stunning rapidity", Hatfield said.
"As a consequence, they are able to feel themselves into those other emotional lives to a surprising extent."
Prof. Hatfield's study found that we are effectively sponges, soaking up so-called emotional contagions emitted by those around us.
As we absorb other people's stress, we can begin to feel stressed too - and to focus on issues that might be troubling us.
And Professor Hatfield found that not only do we take on other people's negative thought patterns, we can also start to subconsciously take on their stressed out body language,
causing us to hunch our shoulders and furrow our brows when we talk to them.
"In conversation, people automatically and continuously mimic and synchronise their movements with the facial expressions, voices, postures, movements, and instrumental
behaviors of others", Professor Hatfield says.
In doing so, people can and do "feel themselves into" the emotional landscapes others are suffering.
"Some people are oblivious and therefore immune to the stress around them", she said.
"Women are more at risk because they tend to be more in tune to other people's feelings", Prof. Hatfield adds.