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Are Emotions Contagious?

Picture this: It is the first day of your new semester, you roll out of bed full of energy elated at the thought of meeting your friends after a month-long summer break. You have a healthy breakfast, put on your freshly-ironed uniform, hop into the school bus waiting in agony to reunite with your best friends. You arrive at school, seeing gleaming faces surrounding you, while you embrace your friends in a comforting hug. As the day goes on, enthusiasm continues to brew when you notice one of your friends looking upset. The excitement fades from your face a complete mood shift, and you soon notice yourself sinking into an unexplainable sadness.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you feel affected by moods of those around you?

Surrounding yourself with a specific emotion may subconsciously lead to your feelings and mood being shared with those around you. Research suggests that emotions are contagious similar to germs, people get infected by others’ happiness or sadness. In areas such as the workplace, school and the home environment, emotions prove highly contagious. Whether it be overhearing the tension in your boss’s room, witnessing a teacher scold your classmate or hearing your family bicker on the dinner table. Catching such negative emotions can eventually spread like a virus causing you to mimic anxiety.

Psychologists and researchers in the field have studied this phenomenon and called it Emotional Contagion (EC). This refers to ‘the process of when one person’s emotions and behaviours directly trigger similar emotions implicitly or explicitly in other people’. Emotional cues involve mimicry, facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, which indicate the transfer of emotions. According to neuropsychology, an experiment to prove mimicry was conducted on monkeys and suggests that EC takes place similarly for humans due to the ‘mirror neuron system’. This neuron system stimulates facial expression, responsible for human connections and feelings of empathy due to the activation of the amygdala.

Along with this, advances in social psychology provide explanations behind the act of unintentionally catching others emotions, calling it the ‘affective reactions’. Affective reactions to EC include infusion and mood management. Individuals strive for an outlet for their negative emotional states leading to Emotional Contagion.

Is it possible to turn off your emotions and not be affected by other people’s moods? The human brain is a complex mechanism hardwired with emotions such as empathy and compassion, making it impossible to completely switch off one’s emotions. However, there are specific ways you can protect your own emotional well-being by avoiding or limiting Emotional Contagion, some of these include:

  1. Gain self-awareness. It is common for individuals who get much affected by others around them, to be in denial or not realize it immediately. In this situation, awareness is critical. One must recognize and be aware of emotional states around them and their consequences, to protect oneself and guard their own mental well-being.

  2. Prioritize yourself. Surrounding yourself with things that make YOU happy will make it less likely to succumb to bad moods or environments. It may sound easier said than done, but self-care and bringing in small joys every day will allow you to reduce negative energy. This could include, therapeutic practices such as journaling your thoughts, painting or listening to your favourite music or podcast.

  3. Avoid engaging in Self-Deprecating behaviour. Recognize your power and control on your own emotions without undervaluing or belittling yourself. Remind yourself about your strengths and capabilities focus on manifesting positive energy. Remember, you are not responsible for others feelings, you are only responsible for your own.

Although emotions are most contagious during face-to-face interactions, emotional contagion also occurs through social media and television in today’s digital world. While you may have been on the receiving end of Emotional Contagion, it is essential to remember that the emotions you put out the matter. Attract positivity by having affirmative interactions and ‘be the energy you want to receive’.

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