If you find yourself seeking out a sad movie when you want to feel sad, then you may know, at least subconsciously, that emotions can be contagious. Just like catching the flu, we really can catch emotions from others. The phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, occurs when we consciously or subconsciously mimic the emotions of those around us.
How does emotional contagion work?
In Emotional Contagion author Elaine Hatfield explains that catching emotions happens in three, ordered stages. We first mimic the emotions of others. Think, when a friend smiles you smile back. The act of mimicry (smiling in this case) gives our bodies ‘feedback’, which leads us to share their emotion (joy or happiness).
"We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside-out. Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in."
— Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference)
Digital emotional contagion
Ever wondered why the news is called the news? Our brains are wired to pay attention to new stimuli. The news grabs our attention, and then makes us engage by eliciting in us strong emotions, like fear or anger. Emotional contagion also happens digitally. Watching the news, or scrolling social media in the mornings can set the tone for the day.
Emotional contagion makes up part of the case for conscious consumption of information. Take the time to pay attention to the information you consume and its effect on your mood. The results may surprise you.