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Is vicarious stress functionally adaptive? Perspective-taking modulates the effects of vicarious stress on future firsthand stress.

  • Author(s): Park, Jiyoung
  • Carrillo, Belinda
  • Mendes, Wendy Berry
  • et al.

Mere observation of others experiencing stress is often sufficient to evoke stress vicariously, especially when people try to understand the situation from the viewpoint of others. Here, we tested whether and how the experience of vicarious stress, facilitated by perspective-taking, would influence individuals' affective and motivational reactions to an upcoming experience of firsthand stress-when they themselves encounter the same stressor in the future. Participants viewed a video clip of another participant undergoing a stressful task (a speech task), after being randomly assigned to take either a first-person perspective of the person (perspective-taking condition; n = 45) or maintain a detached, third-person, observer perspective (objective condition; n = 46). Subsequently, participants were given a surprise speech task and asked to prepare for their own speech for 2 minutes, during which their cardiovascular responses were assessed to differentiate motivational states of challenge or threat. Compared to participants in the objective condition, those in the perspective-taking condition perceived higher levels of stress in anticipation of giving a speech. The heightened stress appraisals, in turn, were associated with a more adaptive pattern of cardiovascular reactivity to the firsthand (relative to vicarious) stressor, characterized as challenge responses (an increase in cardiac output and a decrease in total peripheral resistance). These results suggest that perspective-taking enhances sensitivity to vicarious stress, which in turn, may facilitate preparedness for future stressors. Discussion centers on the functional adaptiveness of vicarious stress. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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