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

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2012 Feb;7(2):208-12. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq097. Epub 2011 Jan 5.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Sweat / physiology
  • Young Adult