Has not ever happened to you when you are around someone to feel suddenly more alive, or more energetic? Or by contrary, more depressed, more anxious? Even when that person did not tell you anything to generate a specific emotion?
If this happened to you, it is very possible that you have been affected by emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the process by which, unconsciously, we are affected by the emotions of those around us. We all have the ability to “catch” the emotions surrounding us, to be infected by them, no matter their nature, positive or negative.
Those who made a detailed account of the emotional contagion are the psychologists Elain Hatfield, John T. Cacioppo and Richard Lapson. Their book, Emotional Contagion is the one who launched the concept of „emotional contagion” on the psychological construct’s market.
But how is the emotional contagion transmitted? Through nonverbal channels. When two people are making a conversation, there is tendency to mimic one another, to synchronize their facial expressions, voice, posture, gestures. And when we are imitating a nonverbal behavior, we have also the tendency to feel the emotion associated to that behavior. For instance, if we have the back crooked, the shoulders fallen and head bent down…we’ll feel sadness. Or try to think at something very sad when you have a big smile… you’ll see how hard it is. Each emotion has a specific nonverbal behavior, and if we are imitating that behavior we will finally end up in feeling the associated emotion.
Therefore, by synchronization people manage to arrive on a common emotional ground. Yet, it depends also on the rapport created between them. If two persons are liking each other, there are better chances for synchronization to occur. If not, synchronization fails. In this case, we don t feel the same emotion, but opposite emotions. You don’t enjoy your enemy’s joy, you enjoy his failures.
Who has the greatest skill in producing emotional contagion? Generally, those who can express their emotion in a most powerful way, using nonverbal channels. Moreover, they are less sensitive to the emotional contagion produced by others. Actors are very good in producing emotional contagion; after all is their job to communicate emotions as good as possible. There are also those with strong believes, who do not afraid to express them, people who are genuine in what they are saying. Politicians and salesmen are trying to be expressive, also. They are succeeding, but with a limited success, because they cannot be as expressive as those with real emotions.
Who are most sensitive at emotional contagion? Those who, in principle, have an interest to be more careful with others’ emotions, who have an interest to perceive emotions. For instance, mothers are those who, when taking care of the baby must communicate exclusively nonverbal with the little one. Who has been around a mother knows how quickly she can change her mood, according to what’s happening with that little device of making pee, poo, and bringing happiness into our lives.
What’s the aid in knowing about emotional contagion? First of all, it exists and willing or not, we can’t avoid it. It happens for us to be around some persons who, although at a rational level we agree that they have the best intentions, they induce upon us negative emotions. They are doing this most of the time unconscious, through nonverbal channels. If you are watching their nonverbal behavior, you can see what they are really feeling and maybe you’ll decide if pays the effort have a relationship with them. Or you should look for people who could contaminate you with better emotions.