Research Design Connection: Companions and Stress Levels

Qi led a research team that confirmed that having others nearby can be desirable in many stressful situations. In areas where people will have stressful experiences, at least some seats, according to the Qi team, should allow people to see others in the same space. Qi and colleagues report that, “In our study, participants experienced aversive and neutral sounds alone (alone treatment) or with an unknown person that was physically present without providing active support [there was no social or physical interaction]. The present person was a member of the participants’ ethnical group (ingroup treatment) or a different ethnical group (outgroup treatment)…We measured skin conductance responses (SCRs) and collected subjective similarity and affect ratings. The mere presence of an ingroup or outgroup person significantly reduced SCRs to the aversive sounds compared with the alone condition, in particular in participants with high situational anxiety…Our results indicate that the mere presence of another person was sufficient to diminish autonomic responses to aversive events in humans.” All study participants were women, and they were assessed in the “mere presence” of other women.

Yanyan Qi, Martin Hermann, Luisa Bell, Anna Fackler, Shihui Han, Jurgen Deckert, and Grit Hein. 2020. “The Mere Physical Presence of Another Person Reduces Human Autonomic Responses to Aversive Sounds.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Studies, vol. 287, no. 1919,

Sally Augustin, PhD, a cognitive scientist, is the editor of Research Design Connections (, a monthly subscription newsletter and free daily blog, where recent and classic research in the social, design, and physical sciences that can inform designers’ work are presented in straightforward language. Readers learn about the latest research findings immediately, before they’re available elsewhere. Sally, who is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is also the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009) and, with Cindy Coleman, The Designer’s Guide to Doing Research: Applying Knowledge to Inform Design (Wiley, 2012). She is a principal at Design With Science ( and can be reached at