Not long time back I was in this delicate situation where two of my best friends laughs and giggles made me giggle too irrespective of the circumstance or the content. While it made me hate myself on one hand, I was enjoying the happiness and laughter surrounding my life on the other hand. But it ended up messing up our internship at office during later months. It was one of the critical meetings held in the conference room and the entire team was seated around. As usual, my friend provoked me to laugh with some silly joke of hers and I started to giggle which made my other friend giggle too. Seeing us laugh the employee next to me started to laugh which irritated the boss. When questioned, the employee simply replied that he started to laugh seeing all three of us giggle. We were all warned seriously about our attitude and let off the hook that day. While the experience might be a bitter one it surely does help us understand that emotions are contagious!
A crying baby in the hospital invokes the same in other babies in the ward, one student laughing in the class makes the whole class rumble with laughter and a sense of joy or sadness in any one individual in the house spreads the same feelings to all others too residing. We often say that we can judge people by the type of friend they keep in their life. Likewise, we can judge the emotional state of a person by the emotional state of other members of the house too. Even if you are not aware of it, there are excellent chances that your emotions will affect the people around you. Also, have you ever noticed that you feel happy when someone around you is happy, sad when you are around someone who’s sad and depressed when people are anxious or stressed? This is clearly visible in the small things in life-when someone in the train smiles at you, you smile back in a reflex even though you barely know the person; if you see someone cry over the loss of their loved one there are tears rolling down your eyes and this might happen even while watching movies; and when your dad is sad over some financial crisis the entire house wears a dull look until your dad starts being himself! Researchers have been trying to unravel the reason why people mimic emotions for centuries and studies show that expressions in the face of people trigger the brain to reciprocate the same emotions as our brain predicts it to be a representation of our own emotions. So, just like catching cough and cold maybe it is possible to ‘catch’ emotions such as happiness, sadness, anxiety and stress too. Such a tendency where an individual or a group of individuals affect the emotion and behavior of other individuals is described as emotional contagion (EC). EC is made possible by the interconnected network of cells in the brain that make up the Mirror Neuron System (MNS). MNS captures all the emotional traits of your opponent and mirrors the same in your face. For instance, if you notice someone being happy your brain records the emotion and immediately signals you to be happy too. A smiling person signals your smile muscles to bring on the broad smile to your face reflecting the emotional state of that person. Likewise, depression and sadness too are as contagious as happiness and smile.
The perfect example that emotions are contagious is proved with a business simulation experiment at Yale University which gave two groups of people the responsibility to decide the bonus amount for each employee that was fair. While the amount given remained similar, one group of employees were stressed and tensed about the result but the other group felt good about the money received. Such differences in feelings were generated by planting actors who were responsible for bringing in feelings of negativity (as in the case of first group) and positivity (as in the case of second group) among people. Its been believed that 99% of our decisions don’t rely only on logic but emotions play a greater role in impacting our decisions. Like in the two groups here, the emotions and feelings of people are mostly chiseled by the most powerful person present in the group. So, when such a person is happy, angry or anxious the same emotions are reflected in the other people in the group too. Also, leaders bring in followers. When people see that their leader is calm, collected and brave in the face of crisis they too follow suit but if they find their leader to be upset, angry or depressed these emotions too are reflected in the employees which in turn decreases productivity.
A happy friend has the ability to increase your chances of happiness by almost 10% whereas a sad friend can double your risk of sadness. A friend with a flu might pass on the flu to you but your chances of recovery do not depend on the friends surrounding you but purely depend on your body.
The Social Media Emotion Frenzy
The success of viral posts and digital marketing are based on understanding the pulse of the audience and delivering emotional yet truthful stuff across. Social media site Facebook knows more about us these days than our close relatives. It knows our relationship status and even understands our state of mind! A study by Facebook on 689000 users finally came up with the result that FB could make people feel more positive or negative based on the process of emotional contagion. In one test, Facebook reduced the user’s exposure to his/her friend’s positive posts thereby reducing the individual’s own number of positive posts. In another test it reduced the exposure to the user’s exposure to negative posts and this ultimately reduced the number of negative posts from the user too. The study finally concluded that the emotions expressed by friends via online sites impact our own moods and feelings too. Responding angrily to an angry post spreads anger but being kind can help stop the spreading of anger. Generally, people are caring and generous. Expressing gratitude, thanking individuals and spreading happiness do indeed have psychological benefits.
Partners have the intense ability to mirror each other’s emotions greatly. When one partner texts the other that he/she is elated with salary increase the other partner too becomes happy. But, if one partner texts/speaks to the other one that he/she is sad the other one is likelier to sense your emotion and mirror it. Managers hold priority in organizations in affecting the mood and work culture of employees. A manager who is supportive, encouraging and believes his employees has the ability to create a work culture that is positive, productive and friendly. But if the same manager distrusts his employees and keeps accusing them of non-productivity people might work hard and complete the assignment but rarely they stay in the organization. No one likes to be around those who are negative and pessimistic. All of us like to be happy, stay with positive people and move forward in life. Spend more time with happy people, hang out with those who make you laugh with their witty jokes and when you feel happy, do help in spreading the cheer to other sad people around. But if you have a friend who is depressed it does not mean that depression is going to attack you too. Depression is way beyond feelings such as happiness and sadness. It is a mental illness that needs immediate attention of a health specialist. Help your friend by taking him/her to a physician. Never ever detach yourself from such people as they are already isolated-showing kindness and warmth towards such people is never going to pull down your happiness quotient or cause imbalance in your emotions.
Great Leaders are Positively Infectious: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2012/07/11/great-leaders-are-positively-infectious/#5f2fb8ec78cc
Facebook Reveals News Feed Experiment to Control Emotions: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds
Anger Can be Contagious: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/02/25/697052006/anger-can-be-contagious-heres-how-to-stop-the-spread
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