Posted on Jun 18, 2019, 8 p.m.
Similar to a cold or flu virus being contagious, so are moods. However, most people are not familiar with the fact we can become infected with the moods or emotions of those around us, especially those that are negative.
Have you ever noticed when you are talking to someone who is agitated you feel a little irritable, or when someone is sad you feel sad, and when you communicate with someone who is really happy and confident you feel better about yourself?
For decades experts have been working to understand how and why emotions/moods are contagious, and have discovered that people have a natural tendency to mimic facial expressions, postures, and other behaviors of face to face interactions, and this emotional contagion phenomenon appears as early as infancy.
This emotional contagion is thought to be the foundation for empathy and social functioning among humans. Emotional synchrony is also important among animals for consistent group behavior such as responses to environmental cues.
The more expressive a person is the more likely that person will be noticed and autonomously mimicked, according to a study from the University of Chicago. Extent of the emotional synchrony depends upon the level of intimacy in the relationship, according to a study from the University of California.
“The muscle fibers in your face and body can be activated unbeknownst to you, at much lower levels than if you were to perform those movements yourself,” says Professor John T. Cacioppo.
“Our research shows that infants ‘catch’ and embody the physiological residue of their mothers’ stressful experiences,” said study lead author Dr. Sara Waters. “Our earliest lessons about how to manage stress and strong negative emotions in our day-to-day lives occur in the parent-child relationship.”
In a study published in Psychology Today, Dr. Sigal Barsade demonstrated judgement and business decisions of employees are affected by emotional contagion without anyone realizing what is happening. “My research shows that it’s even more catching than one might think – and in fact has profound consequences for a company’s day-to-day operations,” said Dr. Barsade, who adds that managers can overcome negative consequences and create more productive teams by having awareness of employees’ moods.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff, “One employee’s anxiety and panic can spread like a virus through an entire office, lowering morale and productivity. Happiness can also build in a workplace, which results in improved employee cooperation, satisfaction, and performance. The good news is that sensitive people can benefit from all the positive energy that circulates at work. The difficult news is that we can pick up our co-worker’s emotions or illnesses until we learn to avoid taking on their stress.”
Highly sensitive individuals are likely to be more susceptible to the emotions of other people. While you can’t control everything at work you can escape emotional chaos in a busy office workplace by placing items to surround your space like plants and photos to create a small barrier; take bathroom breaks for relief; go outside for a moment of sunshine and fresh air; wear noise cancelling earbuds; and visualize yourself being in your happy spot surrounded by positive energy that repels negatives.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.