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Motivate Yourself 124: Emotional Contagion

Have you ever walked into a room to find that everyone’s laughing about something and so you begin to smile and maybe even laugh yourself as you enquire what’s funny?
It happens all the time, but what was it that made YOU smile and laugh? After all you didn’t know what they were laughing at!
But in that moment your mood had genuinely lifted, even if for a second or so.
You were smiling and laughing simply because someone else was smiling and laughing all because of the phenomenon of what’s called Emotional Contagion.

Emotional Contagion is the tendency for multiple people to emotionally converge. Humans have evolved to be very social creatures and with this evolutionary trait comes Empathy, the ability to experience something from someone else’s point of view.
Over many thousands of years we learn how to pick up on even the tiniest of cues from peoples facial expressions and body language, let alone words, and react accordingly. But we’ve become so good at this that it has become an unconscious ability, we can do it without even thinking about it.

Many years ago, before I became a full time therapist, I worked in an office and would greet a Monday morning with the same enthusiasm as I would a Friday afternoon. But not all my co-workers felt the same and would trudge into work grumpy and underwhelmed.
I found that my bouncy enthusiasm for life would often lift them up a bit and they would seem happier for a while, until someone else came into the room and would bring everyone back down again.

Obviously these people didn’t CHOOSE to be miserable, not consciously anyway. Not one of them set a goal that day to be grumpy and yet someone else’s grumpiness was able to rub off onto them, even though surely they wouldn’t want it to.

Theres been quite a bit of research into this over the years, both focussing on the happier, pro-social consequences of emotional contagion and well as the negative side to it showing that college students whose roommates are depressed are more likely to become depressed themselves.

So its important to be aware of emotional contagion to shield yourself from it as well as to influence others for the better rather than for the worse.

Here’s some emotional contagion at it’s best.
So, if you feel that someone else’s mood is influencing you and you feel your shoulders slump and a frown begin to form then deliberately override it!
Smile, lift your shoulders back up again and get rid of your frown.
Ultimately what would be great is to have such control over our emotions and behaviour that it actually gets hard to be miserable, negative, rude or angry.
Why not test yourself.
For 24 hours make specific effort to use positive body language, positive words.
No criticisms, no mickey taking or name calling, no gossiping about how daft someone is.
See if you can spread respect, optimism and kindness for 24 hours. You might be surprised how difficult it can be, but give it a bash.
Just for a day.

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