How you “Catch” Feelings
How You “Catch” Feelings
You’ve probably heard the expression “Smile and the world smiles with you,” or at least heard Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the song that refers to it, When you’re smiling, in the movie Analyze This with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal- which, being a shrink, I of course found very amusing. Expressions don’t become embedded in the public’s consciousness for no reason, so where does this one come from?
Maybe you’ve experienced a situation where “contagious laughter” has swept through a room, or even been the catalyst for it yourself, because of your “infectious laugh.” If you watch the news, you’ll eventually hear a reporter describe how “panic ensued” while covering certain events involving “mob mentality.” But what do these things really mean? How can feelings be shared or transmitted between people, even when they’re all strangers to one another?
The answer is a phenomenon called emotional contagion, or EC, the subliminal process by which emotions are transferred from one person to another, such that the receiving individual experiences the emotions as their own. Living in a covid-19 world, we’re all too aware that it takes just a cough or a handshake to spread germs from one person to another, but you can “catch” feelings far more easily than you can catch covid, and far faster. The process takes just milliseconds, faster than the blink of an eye. EC is an important and primitive instinctual process that forms the basis of interpersonal communication, but don’t let that confuse you, that doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t occur amongst groups, because it absolutely does. I should note that EC can also be induced in people via some inanimate objects and cultural artifacts, such as photographs, movies, cartoons, and music. Think about crying at sappy movies or dancing in the car when your favorite song comes on. Not only that, but EC isn’t a “humans only” phenomenon; studies have demonstrated that it also occurs in all other primates, some birds, and it’s even been demonstrated in rats.
To further the covid analogy, the “virulence” of EC and the susceptibility to EC vary by individual. That is to say, some people can be more effective at transmitting it, and some can be more prone to feeling its effects, i.e. susceptible, but everyone is essentially both to varying degrees. EC isn’t type specific, meaning that research has found that both positive and negative emotions- enthusiasm, joy, sadness, fear, and anger- are easily passed from person to person, typically without either party being aware of it. You can be going about your business, feeling whatever you’re feeling, and have an encounter with someone doing the same thing; then afterwards, you feel differently, for reasons that you can’t specify. That can be a bad thing or a good thing, depending on a number of factors that I’ll get into. So apparently Forrest Gump’s mama was right… life is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re gonna get. Covid and chocolates- it’s a mixed metaphor day, people.
How Emotional Contagion Happens
At the most basic level, it works like this: if someone is happy and smiles at you, it tends to cause you to smile back, and that act of smiling back actually improves your mood and causes you to feel happier. But how and why? You might’ve noticed I’ve said that EC is a process; in fact, it involves three stages: mimicry, facial feedback, then contagion.
As people communicate, they express themselves not only through language, but also through gestures and facial expressions. Throughout a communication exchange, individuals constantly read each other’s faces and body language, then instinctively and unconsciously tend to reflect it i.e. copy it; that is called mimicry. When a person then displays the emotion on their face through mimicry, those muscle movements trigger the actual feeling associated with the emotion, and they then get a subjective experience of that emotion i.e. they start to feel the emotion as their own, which is sometimes referred to as adoption. This is because the area of the brain that is activated through the unconscious act of mimicry is the same area that normally would’ve been activated if the person had initiated and performed the action themselves. Same area of brain activated equals same response, regardless of the catalyst for the activation. Handily, this phenomenon is explained by “mirror neurons” in the brain. These neurons fire whether an individual initiates the act themselves, or observes the act being performed by another individual. So the act of mimicry causes the observer’s neurons to fire, and thus “mirror” the activity of the first person’s neurons. It’s sort of like monkey-see, monkey-do for neurons.
When you put all of the stages of the EC process together, it works like this: when someone is happy and smiles at you, you will typically smile back (mimicry) and that act of smiling back actually improves your mood (facial feedback) and ultimately causes you to experience that happiness as your own feeling (contagion).
Role of Emotional Contagion
Humans are social beings. We are born equipped with the evolutionary capacity of EC to help synchronize our emotions and express our wants and needs. A simple example would be a newborn baby crying to be fed because it’s the only way they know how to get food from their caregiver. When they cry and are then fed in response, it reinforces the mechanism. In this way, EC acts as a primitive tactic that continues to develop, and later assists in the recognition and processing of feelings, and a cumulative understanding of how to deal with them in an appropriate manner.
Emotional contagion contributes to empathy, and there is a direct correlation between the two. In other words, decreased sensitivity to the EC results in a decrease in empathy. They are also linked by the fact that both involve the monkey-see, monkey-do mirror neurons, but they are not technically the same thing. Empathy is the capability to share and understand another’s emotion and feelings that is often characterized as the ability to “put yourself into another person’s shoes,” in an effort to experience what the other person is feeling. But it is a conscious choice, so you know the source of the emotions you feel. In contrast, EC is an automatic, subconscious and subliminal process, generally mediated through mimicry of facial and/ or vocal expressions, whereby your feelings or emotional states are influenced by those of another person, such that you experience, or adopt, those feelings as your own. This is also termed emotional convergence or synchronization, and the source of the feelings is typically unknown, and often unexamined.
Scientists agree that there is an emotional climate and culture that tells us which emotions we should or should not display and when. Our understanding develops over time, and guides us in making behavioral decisions according to what is and is not socially acceptable. Imagine that you somewhat reluctantly made plans with an acquaintance, but then they see you and tell you they need to cancel them. Inside, you may actually feel some sense of relief, but instead, you noncommittally say, “Well, that’s too bad, but okay.” On the other hand, if you are insensitive to EC, and therefore are lacking empathy, you might say, “Phew, because I didn’t want to go anyway.” But because you realize that saying that would probably hurt the person’s feelings, and/ or would make you look like a cad, you respond appropriately. This is an example, albeit an extreme one, of how EC allows you to instinctively know what is appropriate, and alter your response and exhibit the correct emotional behavior to maintain success in relationships. In fact, because the automatic processes of EC happen so quickly, you have the ability to change your reply on the fly, even mid-sentence, based solely on the other person’s emotional response as communicated by their facial expression, in order to avoid a social faux pas. All brought to you, in a matter of milliseconds, courtesy of emotional contagion. Which gives you an idea of how important it is in avoiding problems and.
Factors Influencing Emotional Contagion
As I mentioned in the beginning, some people can be more effective at transmitting emotional contagion, and some can be more susceptible to its effects, but nearly everyone is affected, albeit at varying levels and times. There are many factors that influence susceptibility to EC; most of them essentially boil down to the common bases of individual differences, such as age, genetic predisposition, personality traits, gender, and early emotional experience. But it has also been found to vary between interactions, based on the type of interaction, intensity of the expressed emotion, mood at the time of the interaction, and the level of empathy and power dynamics between the individuals involved. All of these influence the intensity of the contagion and have an impact on how likely a person is to “catch” an emotion.
But in fact, you don’t really have to guess how susceptible you may be to EC, because there is an accepted way to accurately measure it, called The Emotional Contagion Scale. Designed in 1997, it takes the form of 15 questions that measure individual differences across five basic, cross-cultural emotions: love, happiness, fear, anger, and sadness, by determining how likely a person is to mimic those emotions. I’ve included the scale and scoring instructions at the end of this blog if you’re interested in taking it. In the meantime, I’ll continue with the factors that tend to influence EC.
Some personality types generally have greater awareness of emotional states, their own as well as those of others, and are therefore more open to the process of emotional contagion in general, in both transmitting emotions to, and receiving emotions from, others. They are also generally more sensitive, attentive, and skilled at reading non-verbal cues.
Other people who are more expressive, meaning that they wear their hearts on their sleeves- and their faces- may be more likely to transmit or share their emotions because they telegraph their feelings more powerfully. Not only that, but the more expressive someone is, the more likely another person is to notice that expression and mimic it. And remember those mirror neurons? They come into play here bigtime, because when that emotion is reflected through mimicry of the associated facial expression, those muscle movements trigger the actual feeling in the brain, brought to you by mirror neurons. On the other hand, people who have a stronger internal response to emotional events- whose hearts may race when they’re nervous, even if they seem calm on the outside- may be more susceptible to catching other people’s moods.
EC is also influenced by the level of intimacy, and therefore empathy, between the individuals involved. People who know one another well and are in frequent contact are typically more affected by EC; this is generally true whether they are the transmitter or receiver. Have you ever found yourself tearing up when you see someone else crying? It’s perfectly fine if you have, and can even be considered a very good sign in relationships where it serves as an indicator of the level of emotional investment. It is more likely to happen when the person crying is someone close to you, such as a spouse, child, parent, or close friend. In fact, studies have shown that emotional convergence occurs more often in relationships that are more cohesive and less likely to dissolve. Not surprisingly, people living under the same roof are especially likely to catch each other’s emotions and moods, as they are the types of relationships where individuals tend to become more similar in their emotional responses.
That said, studies have shown that mere acquaintances, or even strangers, can catch each other’s moods, though the degree to which it happens does depend more on their individual susceptibility. But if you bump into someone in your neighborhood while getting the mail or taking out the trash, and they smile and just say hello you, they can make you feel a mood boost. Or if you’re in the elevator in the morning on your way to work, and someone is impatient and grumpy because the door opens to let someone new on board, they can easily influence your mood, even if no words are exchanged. Normally that’s not amusing, but loyal blog readers may be chuckling if they recognize that as a little DISC humor from last week. If you don’t know what on earth I’m thinking right now, read last week’s blog on the DISC model, because even this instruction is laced with it!
Researchers have also found that language and word choice drives some part of the contagion process, as negatively charged words, i.e. strong language, like “hate,” “worthless,” “anger,” and “sad” are more likely to increase susceptibility to the emotion being conveyed. So strong language generally induces a stronger EC response, which isn’t always great news. There’s enough of that in the world, no need to propagate it.
We’ve learned that age plays a role in influencing EC. Scientists very recently published research describing how the moods of teenagers were affected by those of other teenagers around them. If you’ve ever raised a teenager, this definitely resonates; but more not-so-great news, bad moods were more potent. They also found that when a teenager “catches” a bad mood from a friend, the friend’s outlook becomes more cheerful. That’s a very interesting finding with very mixed news- good for the friend that’s transmitting, but bad for the person that catches it. So much for sharing means caring… more like take this away and don’t stay! Remember that I’m a shrink, not a poet, people.
EC is influenced by gender as well. I should preface this by saying that the relationship of gender to emotional contagion can be a pretty thorny one, as it’s a complicated issue. You’ve probably noticed that I used the word “appropriate” to describe the ideal effects EC has on the expression of emotion, i.e. behavior. The issue is that behavior is often governed by cultural rules which actually vary according to gender; that makes it difficult to make hard and fast “rules” about which gender “should be” expressing which emotion(s), and how and to what level it “should be” expressed. Using a purely theoretical example, women “should be” nurturing caregivers, so they are more susceptible to EC. In other words, it’s super biased, sexist, and constrictive.
Probably as a result of this issue, the research into gender differences in EC has had mixed results. An early study hypothesised that because women were more emotionally expressive than men, they would be more susceptible to catching emotions; and indeed, the results from the EC scales of the participants confirmed this. In contrast, another study found that there were only minor differences between men and women in their experience of “caught” emotions. However, it also found that both men and women had a stronger emotional response when the emotional model used was female rather than male. Still another study found that gender differences came into play when the expressive model was displaying a threatening emotion, such as anger. They found that women responded to the angry faces with more expression, whereas men suppressed their emotional expression, and some even displayed a tendency to smile in response. The scientists hypothesised that this was due to the effect of socialization in the expression of emotion, with women being more likely to attempt to communicate their distress and men more likely to mask or suppress it. This is consistent with the concept of hegemonic masculinity, which is shrink speak for having stereotypically male dominant traits. Yet another study examined moods, before and after pairs of friends talked about multiple predetermined topics. It found that, after talking with a troubled friend, women’s moods were more likely to deteriorate in general, on both sides of the contagion equation (hey, maybe I am a poet) but men’s moods were far less changed, regardless of whether the troubled friend’s mood improved or not.
Regardless, all of the differences in these studies can only be interpreted as confirmation of the fact that cultural and behavioral “rules” are actually responsible for the mixed results and ensuing confusion when it comes to attempting to define how gender affects the expression of EC. And that’s pretty much what we figured, right? So now you know for sure.
Emotional Contagion: Practical Applications
Captain Obvious says that if you’re unhappy, being able to adopt the emotions of a happy person may allow you to feel better and more motivated. And clearly, a positive mindset helps you feel less stressed, which has a positive impact on emotional and physical health. By now you know that this phenomenon helps people connect on a basic emotional level, but EC also has some less obvious practical applications and implications as well, and some of these are an argument for how it can be developed as an intentional tool. In fact, some people subscribe to a broader definition of the phenomenon of EC as “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotional states.” I can appreciate the value of applying EC as a tool to motivate others, but I don’t appreciate it when it’s used as a tool to manipulate others into serving personal interests. First I’ll talk about the positive applications and implications of EC, then I’ll address the less than positive.
Humans generally want to be accepted and understood. To that end, it’s beneficial to know what other people are thinking, if they agree or disagree with you, if they’re understanding what you’re attempting to convey, and whether or not you’re connecting with them on a very basic emotional level. In a way, EC is sort of like a very primitive form of mind reading, as it gives you an idea of what another person is thinking, and therefore feeling.
EC is important to personal relationships because it fosters emotional synchronization. If you want to connect with a person on a deeper level, you want to be “in sync” with them, the euphemism derived from the term, and awareness of the phenomenon can give you an idea of whether your attitudes and beliefs are sympatico with another person’s.
EC can be developed as a skill for use as a tool for effective communication, and therefore one that would be especially important for public speakers and trial attorneys, and people in motivational type positions like sports coaches, among others. Think about listening to a lecture where the presenter is dynamic and expressive, and clearly believes what they’re saying; then contrast that with a presenter who is monotone, slumped over the podium, not moving, and clearly disinterested. Same idea goes for the coach or captain of any team. If one is animated and motivated and obviously believes and expresses that you’re a valuable and capable player, and that your team will win, will that be more effective than one that is totally unmotivated and seems unconvinced that the team is up to the task? Who would you be more inclined to listen to and believe in either of these situations? Even Captain Obvious says that the answers are so clear that they don’t even require responses.
EC has survival value as well. It has been conserved, developed, and reinforced throughout human evolution, which doesn’t tend to keep unnecessary processes. In fact, evolutionarily speaking, EC has evolved, in part, to ensure survival. The brain is hard-wired to keep you safe, and that’s one of the reasons it’s especially attuned to pay more attention to negative emotions like fear and pain. Speaking of which, let’s talk about a real world example of EC’s survival value. Imagine that you were on a plane, and (heaven forbid, but just go with it people) there was some emergency; you may not know how serious the situation is or how concerned and prepared you should be, but by paying attention to the emotions expressed on the faces and in the voices of flight attendants and the pilot(s), you can infer signals that may be critical to your survival. Like when to assume the crash position. I say early… very, very early. Like maybe immediately after boarding. Jk, people.
EC can also be useful in work settings, but only when the moods swing the right way. Numerous researchers have found that when business leaders are in a good mood, members of their work group not only experienced more positive moods, they also experienced fewer negative moods. Studies have also demonstrated that groups with leaders in an upbeat mood were more coordinated and actually expended less effort on tasks than groups with more downbeat leaders, which made them more efficient. But keep in mind that this is a double-edged sword, and a co-worker’s or boss’ bad attitude can spread quickly through a company and create a toxic environment for everyone.
Emotional Contagion: Conscious Strategy
We’ve just discussed how EC can be used as a positive tool, but as I mentioned, EC can also be used as a strategy for… let’s say, potentially less altruistic means.
Emotional Contagion in Marketing
Because it influences thoughts and feelings, EC results in changes to mood, emotions, and behaviors; and studies confirm that this includes consumer behaviors. This was verified by setting up experiments that videotaped participants’ facial expressions before and after exposure to specific photographs. After analyzing the changes in the expressions, these studies concluded the following:
-Participants who saw a smiling model in an advertisement mimicked the picture, smiling back, therefore confirming the process of CE.
-The positive emotion conveyed by the facial expression was also associated with a positive evaluation of the product displayed in the advertisement.
Therefore, as expected, the advertisement with a positive expression of a smiling model elicited a more positive attitude, sympathy, and increased perceptions of reliability and intentions to purchase, as compared to the neutral condition before the photograph was shown. In other words, if an advertisement can make you smile, laugh, or stimulate EC through any positive means, you will feel more positive about the product that the advertisement features. It will make you believe that you need that product, it is the best, better in every way when compared to similar products; and it will do that as if you thought these points yourself, thanks to the monkey-see, monkey-do mirror neurons.
Advertising and marketing execs know this and use it. I’m not saying that this is good, bad, right, or wrong; I’m just saying that EC is purposely used as a tool by employing advertisements that feature cute and cuddly babies, beautiful women in bikinis, hunky men in uniforms, and whatever imagery execs think will elicit a positive response, to sell you a product that you may or may not need, and that may or may not actually be as awesome as you might (literally) be led to believe. So be aware.
Emotional Contagion in Dating
Remember how I used the words “less altruistic” to describe some of the ways EC can be used as a strategy? Well, for this particular application, I’m going to replace those words with “morally reprehensible.” And I suspect many of you will agree. There’s a guy that developed what he calls a “method,” (I use quotation marks because it isn’t actually a method) for men to study and apply EC in an effort to manipulate women into “dating” them (which is actually just a euphemism for having sex with them), and all for the “low, low price of” (my best announcer’s voice) of whatever over-inflated amount he charges for it.
There are so many faults in this that I almost don’t know where to start. First, given my profession, I find it especially deplorable that a person would intentionally manipulate someone else’s feelings just because they can’t manage to get a date, i.e. have sex, with someone any other way. That said, my views on this would remain the same if I were a garbage man. And, it does bother me that this guy is so sexist that he clearly can’t even envision, much less appreciate, the fact that he developed a program “for men to get women,” and clearly doesn’t recognize that men can love men and women can love women; not that any program like this should exist, regardless. Also, not for nothing, but the light that this casts the users of this “method” in isn’t flattering at all. Helll-ooo, desperation. And that has to be considered, because I can almost guarantee you that eventually, your target will find out that you’re using psychology to manipulate them- which won’t make them very happy- because this program is fake.
Speaking of fake, who wants to be fake enough, in order to manipulate people long enough, to get them to sleep with you? And people with even an average amount of awareness can usually sniff out fake like two week old fish, because that’s what fake- and this program- smell like. And if your potential target didn’t have enough awareness before reading this blog, they certainly will after. So the solution to this problem is to share this blog and spread the awareness, people.
Unfortunately, I’m sure that this may cause some of you to want to try to look it up, even though I haven’t given you the name of this program. I say unfortunately, because I don’t want this guy to get any more credit than he already has; and because regardless, you’d be wasting your money. I can save you that, plus a lot of time and fake energy, and tell you that it won’t work, for any number of reasons. I can even make an alternate suggestion if you’re lonely enough to consider paying for something like this “method” which isn’t a method. Why don’t you use that money and make an investment in yourself, see a psychiatrist or psychologist and try to find out why you might not be attracting whatever person you want to be with, because I can say with some authority that attraction really starts with you, so you have to know yourself to attract other people.
I’ll even help you out here and now and tell you that, of the six factors that influence attraction, the most important psychological factor is reciprocity, which basically means that you are more likely to like someone who likes you. Some of the other factors that influence attraction are things like familiarity and similarity, which- guess what- also depend on you knowing yourself. So I suggest you get to know more about you. The very worst that could come of it is that you gain some perspective and some self esteem, and that’s half the battle won.
I apologize if my opinion is too clear, or offends anyone, but everyone has people they care about- friends and family- and most people wouldn’t want them to be manipulated and conned in this way, just to serve someone else’s purposes. That perspective is empathy at work, by the way, and hopefully it’s contagious. Maybe this guy and his “method” upset me so much because I expend such a huge amount of time and energy undoing the damage caused by manipulation. Just a theory. Anyway, moving on to slightly less manipulative applications of EC as a strategy.
Emotional Contagion in Digital Interactions
Emotions can even spread through all of our digital interactions, because EC doesn’t rely solely on visualizing facial expressions; it can also be influenced by emotions that are implied via language and word choice. All digital interactions are subject to EC, including text messages, emails, instant messages, and most importantly, social networks. It’s the most important because the moods are propagated i.e. spread to, and influenced by, the mood of your friends, that of your friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends, and so on. This has been demonstrated by one study that looked at online social justice movements, and which found a demonstrable “amplification effect,” wherein people more frequently liked replies that were actually more emotional than the original message posted. This would be a very effective method for propagation, because again, language and word choice play a role in the contagiousness of EC. But that’s another double-edged sword.
And speaking of social network studies, one dominant social media site, whose name rhymes with placelook, conducted a particularly controversial study that came to light in 2014, when scientists published a paper revealing that, in 2012, researchers (who were also employed by the same social media site by the way) conducted a study into EC. In the study, they surreptitiously altered the news feeds- the main page that users land on for a stream of updates from friends- of nearly 700,000 users. Feeds were changed to reflect more “positive” or “negative” content, in order to determine if seeing more sad messages makes a person sadder. My response: duh.
After analyzing more than 3 million posts, the team found that people exposed to fewer positive words made fewer positive posts themselves, whereas those exposed to fewer negative words made fewer negative posts. In other words, you are what you feed, not what you eat, on placelook. The experiment also demonstrated that personal interaction and verbal clues weren’t necessary for emotional contagion. It’s worth noting that both of those things had already been discovered from separate studies, designed and conducted by different researchers, one of which found that the very existence of feeds was making some users sadder. So basically, now we are absolutely sure, as if we didn’t know before, that placelook can manipulate your mood, which does affect your perspective, what you buy, why you buy it, whether you vote, how you vote, and pretty much everything else in your life. It certainly has the biggest effects on how you interact with your social media friends, especially after your news feeds are altered… helll-ooo!!
If you’re wondering about permission, here’s the scoop on how news feeds were surreptitiously tweaked without warning: placelook users agree to the social giant’s general terms of data use when they create a profile, and researchers tracked emotional responses of test subjects by judging any subsequent changes in their use of language, which is covered in those terms. It’s unclear if you, or I, were tested, and it will remain that way. Ultimately, as users, the check-box agreement gave permission for this kind of psychological experimentation.
I should add something. One reporter that had been aggressively following this story for Forbes got a response from placelook, which stipulated that, “…the research was conducted for a single week and none of the data used were associated with any specific user.” They further explained that they do research to make the content “…as relevant and engaging as possible” and that, “a big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process. There is no unnecessary collection of people’s data in connection with these research initiatives and all data is stored securely.”
One last note on this topic: another reporter had apparently spoken with the editor of the placelook study, who is also employed by them, and she reported that even they thought the mood study was creepy. I agree, and I also think that, when it comes to studies, placelook may not know exactly what they’re doing, but they definitely know what they have the power to do, and what a platform with access to the personal interactions of more than a billion users can do. And now I’ve said all I’ll say about the placelook study controversy.
When it comes to the ways emotional contagion can be used as an external tool, potentially on- or against- you, the take home message is be aware and beware.
Emotional Contagion: Final Thoughts
With any luck, people catch all the positive emotions, a colleague’s enthusiasm for a promotion at work, or a friend’s excitement over an engagement, and miss the negative ones. But what goes up must come down. Research suggests that just being around someone who’s stressed can increase your own stress levels. Other studies have found the same to be true for depression. Negative emotions, like sadness, fear, pain, and anger, are more contagious; and on top of that, they can be damaging to your overall health, as they can lead to sadness, depression, fatigue, decreased energy, and stress. Ultimately, negative states of mind may increase the risk for heart disease and other serious health issues over time. You’d think that with such negative impacts, people would always stay away from those who emit negativity. But it’s not that simple.
While the idea of making yourself impervious to other people’s emotions may be appealing, putting up an emotional barrier isn’t the answer. This is because the cost of it is the loss of empathy. You have to consider that shutting out other people’s dark moods precludes you from catching their good ones as well. So how should you respond to negativity?
First, consider this: research indicates that people can catch something that isn’t actually there to begin with, for the same reasons why EC confers survival value. Because we are wired to pick up on threats in the environment, we are susceptible to interpreting situations negatively. In addition, humans tend to create our realities in accordance with our beliefs, so if we go into an ambiguous interaction believing the worst of someone, we tend to act in a way that makes the other person more defensive, or worse, antagonistic; and this confirms our original view. The lesson is that reality is what you make it, so try to make it positive, even if it seems negative.
Since you can’t- and shouldn’t- shut out all negativity, what can you do to regulate it, while still ensuring that the positivity comes through loud and clear? There is some strategy involved in managing this, and like EC, it’s a skill you can work on. Take some time and reflect on your own emotional state.
Now we know how easily so many things can affect our mood, and then affect the moods of others, without us even realizing it. Below are some tips to manage EC if you think your moods “infect” others negatively, or vice versa, and some ways to do yourself a favor when they do.
Awareness is Key
When you become aware of the emotions you exude toward others, it helps you recognize when you’re picking up on the negative or positive emotions of others; this will allow you to create change if needed and protect your own emotional well-being, as well as that of the people around you. Take care of yourself when you need to. If you feel exceptionally stressed, first remember the possibility that you may be feeling something that’s not actually there. If you find it is actually there, then proceed with management.
Seek Professional Guidance
If you find that you’re more aware or sensitive to the moods of others, you can always evaluate those relationships and those triggers. Talking with a trained professional can help you in thought pattern recognition and guide you into healthy coping skills to ward off EC.
Create Your Happy Place
Surround yourself with things that make you happy. You’re less likely to succumb to someone else’s bad mood if you keep your surrounding environment full of things that bring you joy. So create your own personal happy place, at home and at work, that can help you if you start feeling like you’re coming down with a bad case of negativity. Bring in plants, put up photos of your pet, partner, children, and friends, and listen to your favorite music.
Accentuate the Positive
Incite radical acts of positive contagion: play upbeat songs on your way home if you’re stressed, like on the way home from work. Find proactive ways to boost your moods, and those of loved ones will increase as well. If you don’t want another person’s negativity to affect you, try turning the tables by smiling and trying to keep your voice cheerful. This not only helps you feel more positive, but the other person might also mimic your body language and catch your mood, making it a win-win situation.
When you feel negativity creeping in, share a funny video, tell a good joke, or enjoy your favorite sitcom or movie for a boost of positivity. Just like offering positivity, laughing can help improve your mood and relieve stress, and it can also spread to people around you.
One of the best ways of avoiding contagion with people who are down is actually to engage with them. Do things with them that will lift both their mood and yours, like taking a walk, sharing a meal, working out together, or just being generally supportive and talking through things.
It’s Not Personal
People have their own issues and they have nothing to do with you. Don’t encourage or even engage with bad behavior, or anything else that doesn’t feel right, and that includes online. Bad behavior breeds bad behavior. If you send out calm, positive signals, you are more likely to attract the same, and less likely to attract the opposite.
Remember that changing the behavior of an adult who thrives on negativity is typically very unlikely to happen, and the attempt can wear you out, especially because you’ll find you’re doing it over and over. If you’re dealing with an angry boss or an anxious father, always remember to take time for yourself to think the situation through before engaging and trying to convince people to change their bad behavior.
When you’re in a bad mood, there are also ways to avoid infecting other people with your negative emotions. They all boil down to one central theme: control. Realize that you have the power to “infect” a room via contagion, especially in your own home, and use that as an incentive to keep emotions in check and safeguard your colleagues, neighbors, and loved ones from your negativity.
We know what inoculation means, so try to do that first to make yourself less susceptible to bad moods that you can easily pass on to others. This includes the basics, like getting adequate sleep, eating well, exercising, and cultivating a sense of purpose.
Compartmentalizing can be useful in managing the effects of EC. You might think you have every right to be cranky, but if you consider how it can infringe on other people’s rights to exist in a content state, you might find it easier to set aside your negative thoughts and emotions. So shelve the bad mood when you know you’ll be interacting with other people. You can always choose to wallow in your negativity later, in private.
Show some emotional awareness by asking a long-term partner, or someone else you trust implicitly, for input on whether you’re giving off negative vibes too often. If so, work to regulate your sadness, anger, and anxiety through therapy or mindfulness, or by modifying your expectations or looking at the situation from a different perspective.
If you’re particularly irritable, consider isolating yourself. We’re all familiar with this one. You might be better served by watching happy movies or going to bed early.
Ask yourself some questions:
-What types of emotion do I give off and how does that affect the people I interact with, my family, roommates, spouse, colleagues, etc?
-How easily do I let others affect my emotions? Am I even aware when it’s happening?
-Are the people in my social networks the type of people I really want to surround myself with?
-Whom do I feel my best around?
-Who reinforces my strengths and best qualities?
-With whom am I the best version of myself?
-Are there actions or changes I need to make?
Keep in Mind:
-You aren’t responsible for the feelings of others, only your own.
-You may not be able to help other people, but you’ll never be of much help if you’re not feeling well, either. You can always take the time to help yourself, and you’re absolutely worth it.
-People usually share their experiences in the only way they know, and this is especially important to remember when they’re depressed.
-Check out the Emotional Contagion Scale to see how vulnerable you are to catching and adopting the feelings of others.
The Emotional Contagion Scale
This examines a person’s tendency to mimic five basic emotions: sadness, fear, anger, happiness, and love.
If you want to take it, forget everything you’ve just read- temporarily, mind you- and remember that there are no right or wrong answers. Read each question and choose the answer that best applies to you using the key below. Scoring interpretation instructions are at the end.
4 = Always; 3 = Often; 2 = Rarely; 1 = Never
1. If someone I’m talking with begins to cry, I get teary-eyed.
2. Being with a happy person picks me up when I’m feeling down.
3. When someone smiles warmly at me, I smile back and feel warm inside.
4. I get filled with sorrow when people talk about the death of their loved ones.
5. I clench my jaws and my shoulders get tight when I see the angry faces on the news.
6. When I look into the eyes of the one I love, my mind is filled with thoughts of romance.
7. It irritates me to be around angry people.
8. Watching the fearful faces of victims on the news makes me try to imagine how they might be feeling.
9. I melt when the one I love holds me close.
10. I tense up when I overhear an angry quarrel.
11. Being around happy people fills my mind with happy thoughts.
12. I sense my body responding when the one I love touches me.
13. I notice myself getting tense when I’m around people who are stressed out.
14. I cry at sad movies.
15. Listening to the shrill screams of a terrified child in a dentist’s waiting room makes me feel nervous.
The highest possible score is 60, and the higher the score, the more susceptible you are to emotional contagion.
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