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Encyclopedia > Emotional contagion

Emotional contagion is the tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. It represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). Hatfield and colleagues propose that the process of emotional contagion takes place through a series of steps. When a reciever is interacting with a sender, he percieves the emotional expressions of the sender. The reciever automatically mimics those emotional expressions. Through the process of afferent feedback, these new expressions are translated into feeling the emotions the salesperson feels, thus leading to emotional convergence. Emotional contagion may be involved in mob psychology crowd behaviors, like collective fear, disgust, or moral outrage, but also emotional interactions in smaller groups such as work negotiation, teaching and persuasion/propaganda contexts. It is also the phenomenon when a person (especially a child) appears distressed because another person is distressed, or happy because they are happy. The ability to transfer moods appears to be innate in humans. For other uses, see Emotion (disambiguation). ... Fear is a powerful biological feeling of unpleasant risk or danger, either real or imagined. ... Disgust is an emotion that is typically associated with things that are perceived as unclean, inedible, or infectious. ... A moral panic is a reaction by a group of people based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behavior or group, frequently a minority group or a subculture, is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society. ... In education, teachers are those who teach students or pupils, often a course of study or a practical skill. ...

To date, most clinical research has focused on the effects on non-verbal (and often non-emotional) displays, and relatively less has been studied about the impact of contagion effects on emotional feelings. Emotional contagion and empathy have an interesting relationship; for without an ability to differentiate between personal and pre-personal experience (see individuation), they appear the same. In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm explores the autonomy necessary for empathy which is not found in contagion. Fromm extolled the virtues of humans taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authoritarian moral values. Recognizing emotions and acknowledging their cause can be one way to avoid emotional contagion. Not to be confused with Pity, Sympathy, or Compassion. ... Individuation comprises the processes whereby the undifferentiated becomes or develops individual characteristics, or the opposite process, by which components of an individual are integrated into a more indivisible whole. ... The Art of Loving is a book written by Erich Fromm and published in 1956 by Harper & Row. ... Erich Fromm Erich Pinchas Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) was an internationally renowned Jewish-German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher. ... Look up autonomy, autonomous in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Transfers of emotions have been studied in different situations and settings. Social and physiological causes are the two largest areas of research.



The research of Sigal G. Barsade of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows the impact of positive emotions on work groups. "Emotional contagion, the transfer of emotion between individuals, and its influence on work group dynamics was examined in two managerial simulations using multiple, convergent measures of emotions and group dynamics. The studies tested hypotheses on differential contagion effects due to the degree of pleasantness of the emotion, and the energy with which this pleasantness was conveyed. After determining that emotional contagion existed in groups, I then examined the influence of emotional contagion on individual-level attitudes and group processes. As predicted, experiencing positive emotional contagion led to improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased perceptions of task performance - all as rated by self, other group members, and outside video-coders. The opposite was the case when experiencing negative emotional contagion. Theoretical implications and practical ramifications of emotional contagion in groups and organizations are discussed." Wharton School Wharton School is the business school of University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ...

Married couples

Robert Levenson Phd. researches human psychophysiology. Levenson uses longitudinal studies of married couples physiological responses. He measures how empathy requires a calm and receptive emotional environment for the couple to be in physiological sync. When an emotional hijacking is taking place (anger or argument) empathy declines and the cognitions of the spouse are blocked. Dr. Ed Diener maintains that genetics influences our positive and negative dispositions. David Lykken offers an emotional set point theory he backs up with habitability studies of twins.


Psychologist Elaine Hatfield theorizes emotional contagions as a two-step process: Step 1 We imitate people, if someone smiles at you, you smile back. Step 2:Changes in mood through faking it. If you smile you feel happy, if you frown you feel bad. Mimicry seems to be one foundation of emotional movement between people. Hour old infants are wired to mimic a person's facial gestures. When you smile, the baby will smile.

Martin E.P.Seligman, Ph.D. uses synchrony games to build children's learning that "your actions matter and can control outcomes". When a baby bangs on a table the adult bangs on the table, replicating the action. This is one way emotional learning can be validated by an adult.

Mirror neurons

Vittorio Gallese posits that mirror neurons are the cause of intentional attunement in relation to others. Gallese found a class of premotor neurons that discharge when macaque monkeys execute goal-related hand movements in themselves or when watching others. One class of these F5 audio-visual neurons will fire with action execution and observation, and with sound production of the same action. Research in humans shows an activation of the premotor and parietal areas of the brain when action perception and execution experiments have been performed. Gallese continues his dialogue to say humans understand emotions through a simulated shared body state. The observers’ neural activation enables a direct experiential understanding. "Unmediated resonance" is a similar theory by Goldman and Sripada (2004). Empathy can be a product of the functional mechanism in our brain that creates embodied simulation. The other we see or hear becomes the "other self" in our minds.


The amygdala is the part of the brain mechanism that underlies empathy and allows for emotional attunement and creates the pathway for emotional contagions. The basa areas including the brain stem form a tight loop of biological connectedness, re-creating in one person the physiological state of the other. Howard Friedman, a psychologist at University of California at Irvine thinks this is why some people can move and inspire others. The use of facial expressions, voices, gestures and body movements transmit emotions to an audience from a speaker. Look up Amygdala in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The University of California, Irvine is a public, coeducational university situated in suburban Irvine, California. ...

Insulation and inoculation

The concept of insulating oneself from emotional contagion is called emotional detachment. Alexithymic conditions may be one avenue people use to avoid emotional contagions. Primary alexithymia has a distinct neurological basis and a physical cause, such as genetic abnormality, disrupted biological development or brain injury (an example would be stroke). Secondary alexithymia results from psychological influences such as sociocultural conditioning, neurotic retroflection or defense against trauma. Secondary is often seen in post-traumatic stress patients. Secondary alexithymia is presumed to be more transient than primary alexithymia and hence more likely to respond to therapy or training.

Carol Tavris in her review, "Pursued by Fashionable Furies" has this to say about author Elaine Showalter;

Elaine Showalter, a professor of English and president-elect of the Modern Language Association, has written a spirited Freudo-literary analysis of what she calls hysterical epidemics and what social scientists call emotional contagions or mass psychogenic illnesses. Her six examples are chronic fatigue syndrome, gulf war syndrome, recovered memories of sexual abuse, multiple personality disorder, satanic ritual abuse and alien abduction. She knows full well that throwing the first three into the mix will infuriate thousands of people who believe they are suffering from unidentified organic disorders or the aftereffects of trauma. She braves not only their wrath, but also that of the feminist therapists and writers whose credulous endorsements of recovered memory and satanic abuse have contributed to these epidemics. Carol Tavris takes a critical look at what is behind some emotionally contagious diseases. She sifts the organic from the psychological reasons that people are diagnosed with emotionally contagious labels. Tavris suggests critical thinking as the inoculation against false beliefs. are you kiddin ? i was lookin for it for hours ...

Imago therapy helps people use strategic communication skills to build better relationships. Dr. Harville Hendrix developed this program to teach people how to stop and think about what they are feeling then effectively express their feelings. This stops run-a-way emotions from being transferred in relationships and becoming unhealthy habits.

Howard Gardner has developed his multiple intelligence theory to include; Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counselors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of us, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives. The use of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence can create an atmosphere of growth for individuals. It has been suggested that Naturalist Intelligence be merged into this article or section. ...



  • Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1994). Emotional contagion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lykken,D. (2000) Happiness: The nature and nurture of joy and contentment. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
  • Seligman, M.( 2002) Authentic Happiness Free Press
  • Showalter, Elaine Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture 244 pp. New York: Columbia University
  • Goleman, Daniel (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence Bantam Books
  • Essel, David, M.S. (1998) Phoenix Soul Kona Press

External links

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Memetics and Social Contagion: Two Sides of the Same Coin? (5616 words)
Contagion is now an accepted risk factor in suicide research, and the overwhelming evidence has prompted the establishment of several government programmes to minimise the effects of suicide contagion.
The emotional contagion phenomenon was originally defined by McDougall (1920) as "the principle of direct induction of emotion by way of the primitive sympathetic response" and more recently by Sullins (1991) as "the process by which individuals seem to catch the "mood" of those around them".
For example, the emotional contagion scale developed by Doherty (1997) could be used by memeticists, as could the field studies, correlational and experimental methods that have been exploited by social contagion researchers.
Administrative Science Quarterly: The ripple effect: emotional contagion and its influence on group behavior (1083 words)
What remains to be done is a more causal test of emotional contagion and how its processes operate in groups, as well as an examination of the consequences of emotional contagion on group dynamics, such as cooperation and conflict, as well as on individual attitudes, cognition, and behavior.
This study focuses on emotional contagion, "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 emotion states and behavioral attitudes" (Schoenewolf, 1990: 50), in particular, the contagion of everyday moods in work groups.
Similar to cognitive contagion, emotional contagion is a type of social influence (Schachter, 1959:15; Cacioppo and Petty, 1987; Levy and Nail, 1993), and it is a process that can occur at both subconscious and conscious levels (Druckman and Bjork, 1994; Totterdell, 2000; Kelly and Barsade, 2001).
  More results at FactBites »



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