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Contagious Stress

September 13, 2011

Early stress in a zebra finch’s life not only cuts its life short, but takes a serious toll on its mate’s life as well.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Contagious stress…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Stress in early life can significantly reduce your lifespan…if you’re a zebra finch, that is. And new research suggests that early stress in one bird’s life also shortens its mate’s life. University of Glasgow biologist Pat Monaghan and her colleagues gave one group of baby finches a stress hormone, while other group served as unstressed controls. Once they reached adulthood, the birds were paired up. Monaghan says after three years, 95% of controls paired with other controls were still alive. But mortality was four times higher in mixed couples.

PAT MONAGHAN (University of Glasgow):

20% had died. And in the pairs where there were two birds mated together that had experienced stress, 40% had died. So this effect of early stress reducing lifespan, it was contagious if you like, it infected the partner.

HIRSHON:

She says it’s possible that the birds’ own experience with stress stressed their partners out too, or that they were unprepared to provide their mates with adequate comfort.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.