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Emotional contagion

Emotional contagion

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Emotional contagion is the tendency to catch and feel emotion
Emotion
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

s that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view developed by John Cacioppo
John Cacioppo
John T. Cacioppo is the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He founded and is Director of the University of Chicago Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience and the Director of the Arete Initiative of the Office of the Vice President for...

 of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expression
Facial expression
A facial expression one or more motions or positions of the muscles in the skin. These movements convey the emotional state of the individual to observers. Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication. They are a primary means of conveying social information among humans, but also occur...

s, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally. A broader definition of the phenomenon was suggested by Sigal G. Barsade—"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".

Research


Emotional contagion may be involved in mob psychology crowd behaviors, like collective fear
Fear
Fear is a distressing negative sensation induced by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger...

, disgust
Disgust
Disgust is a type of aversion that involves withdrawing from a person or object with strong expressions of revulsion whether real or pretended. It is one of the basic emotions and is typically associated with things that are regarded as unclean, inedible, infectious, gory or otherwise offensive...

, or moral outrage, but also emotional interactions in smaller groups such as work negotiation, teaching and persuasion
Persuasion
Persuasion is a form of social influence. It is the process of guiding or bringing oneself or another toward the adoption of an idea, attitude, or action by rational and symbolic means.- Methods :...

/propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 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. Emotional contagion and empathy
Empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

 have an interesting relationship; for without an ability to differentiate between personal and pre-personal experience (see individuation
Individuation
Individuation is a concept which appears in numerous fields and may be encountered in work by Arthur Schopenhauer, Carl Jung, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, David Bohm, and Manuel De Landa...

), they appear the same. In The Art of Loving
The Art of Loving
The Art of Loving is a book written by psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm , which was published as part of the "World Perspectives Series" edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen...

, Erich Fromm
Erich Fromm
Erich Seligmann Fromm was a Jewish German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory.-Life:Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, at Frankfurt am...

 explores the autonomy
Autonomy
Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision...

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

In addition to the social contexts discussed above, emotional contagion is a concept that has been studied within organizations. Schrock, Leaf, and Rohr (2008) discuss that organizations, like societies, have emotion cultures that consist of languages, rituals, and meaning systems, including rules about the feelings workers should, and should not, feel and display. They state that the concept of emotion culture is quite similar to the notion of "emotion climate" (p. 46), which has also been synonymously referred to as morale
Morale
Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used to describe the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others...

, organizational morale, and corporate morale. Furthermore, Worline, Wrzesniewski, and Rafaeli (2002) make mention that organizations have an overall "emotional capability" (p. 318), while McColl-Kennedy and Smith (2006) examine the concept of "emotional contagion" (p. 255) specifically in customer interactions. These terms are arguably all attempting to describe a similar phenomenon; each term is different from one another in subtle and somewhat indistinguishable ways. Future research might consider where and how the meanings of these terms intersect, as well as how they differ.

Implicit emotional contagion


Unlike cognitive
Cognition
In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science...

 contagion, emotional contagion is less conscious and more automatic. It relies mainly on non-verbal communication, although it has been demonstrated that emotional contagion can, and does, occur via telecommunication
Computer-mediated communication
Computer-mediated communication is defined as any communicative transaction that occurs through the use of two or more networked computers...

. For example, people interacting through E-mails and "chats" are affected by the other's emotions, without being able to perceive the non-verbal cues.

One view, proposed by Hatfield and colleagues, describes the emotional contagion process as a primitive, automatic and unconscious behavior. According to them, it takes place through a series of steps. When a receiver is interacting with a sender, he perceives the emotional expressions of the sender. The receiver automatically mimics those emotional expressions. Through the process of afferent feedback
Feedback
Feedback describes the situation when output from an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or occurrences of the same Feedback describes the situation when output from (or information about the result of) an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or...

, these new expressions are translated into feeling the emotions the sender feels, thus leading to emotional convergence. Another view, emanating from social comparison theories
Social comparison theory
Social comparison theory is a theory initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. It explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and desires by comparing themselves to others.- Basic framework :...

, sees emotional contagion as demanding more cognitive effort and being more conscious. According to this view, people engage in social comparison to see if their emotional reaction is congruent with the persons around them. In this case, the recipient uses the emotion as a type of social information to understand how he or she should be feeling.

People respond differentially to positive and negative stimuli, and negative events tend to elicit stronger and quicker emotional, behavioral, and cognitive responses than neutral or positive events. Thus, unpleasant emotions are more likely to lead to mood contagion than are pleasant emotions. Another variable that needs to be taken into account is the energy level
Dispositional affect
Dispositional affect, similar to mood, is a personality trait or overall tendency to respond to situations in stable, predictable ways. This trait is expressed by the tendency to see things in positive or negative way. People with high positive affectivity tend to perceive things through “pink...

 at which the emotion is displayed. As higher energy causes more attention to it, the prediction is that the same emotional valence
Dispositional affect
Dispositional affect, similar to mood, is a personality trait or overall tendency to respond to situations in stable, predictable ways. This trait is expressed by the tendency to see things in positive or negative way. People with high positive affectivity tend to perceive things through “pink...

 (pleasant or unpleasant) expressed with high energy will lead to more contagion than if expressed with low energy.

Explicit emotional contagion


Contrary to the automatic infection of feelings described above, there are times when others' emotions are being manipulated by a person or a group in order to achieve something. This can be a result of intentional affective influence by a leader or team member. Suppose this person wants to convince the others in something, he may do so by sweeping them in his enthusiasm. In such a case, his positive emotions are an act with a purpose of "contaminating" the others' feelings. A different kind of intentional mood contagion is by giving the group a reward, or treat, in order to alleviate their feelings.

In the organizational psychology literature, a growing body of research is dedicated to the aspects of emotional labor
Emotional labor
Emotional labor is a form of emotional regulation wherein workers are expected to display certain emotions as part of their job, and to promote organizational goals...

. In short, it deals with the need to manage emotions so that they are consistent with organizational or occupational display rules, regardless of whether they are discrepant with internal feelings. In regard to emotional contagion, in work settings that require a certain display of emotions, one finds himself obligated to display, and consequently feel, these emotions. In a process where surface acting
Emotional labor
Emotional labor is a form of emotional regulation wherein workers are expected to display certain emotions as part of their job, and to promote organizational goals...

 develops into deep acting
Emotional labor
Emotional labor is a form of emotional regulation wherein workers are expected to display certain emotions as part of their job, and to promote organizational goals...

, emotional contagion is the byproduct of intentional affective impression management.

Factors influencing group contagion


There are several factors which determine the rate and extent of emotional convergence in a group. Some of these are: membership stability, mood-regulation norms, task interdependence and social interdependence.

Besides these event-structure properties, there are personal properties of the group's members, such as openness to receive and transmit feelings, demographic characteristics and dispositional affect, that influence the intensity of emotional contagion.

Evolutionary point of view


A somewhat different explanation of the emotional contagion phenomenon is provided by evolutionary theorists: "Given that emotions function to help humans adapt to social situations it makes sense that one person's emotion would affect another's. Just as herd animals would benefit from rapidly passing messages about risk and reward, emotional contagion seems to be adaptive for humans to function in groups. This system can enable a rapid communication of opportunity and risk, mediate a group interaction, and help humans attend to social rules and norms such as maintaining harmonious interaction with a powerful ally".

Intragroup emotional contagion


Many organizations and workplaces are currently encouraging team-work. This is a move driven by studies conducted by organizational psychologists
Industrial and organizational psychology
Industrial and organizational psychology is the scientific study of employees, workplaces, and organizations. Industrial and organizational psychologists contribute to an organization's success by improving the performance and well-being of its people...

 that highlight the benefits of work-teams. Also, putting people together as a group and expecting everything to pass quietly is being naïve. Emotion
Emotion
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

s come into play and a "group emotion
Group Emotion
A group of people share a range of qualities and characteristics which signifies it from other groups. One facet of the group's entity is its emotional characteristics. Just as individuals have moods, emotions and dispositional affects, Groups possess similar attributes which influence aspects such...

" is formed.

The group's emotional state has an influence on factors such as cohesiveness, moral
Moral
A moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim...

, rapport
Rapport
Rapport is a term used to describe, in common terms, the relationship of two or more people who are in sync or on the same wavelength because they feel similar and/or relate well to each other....

 and the team's performance. For this reason, organizations need to take into account the factors that shape the emotional state of the work-teams, in order to harness the beneficial sides and avoid the detrimental sides of the group's emotion. Managers and team leaders should be even more cautious with their behavior, since their emotional influence is greater than that of a "regular" team member. It has been shown that leaders are more emotionally "contagious" than others.

Employee-customer emotional contagion


The interaction between service employees and customers is considered an essential part of both customers' assessments of service quality and their relationship with the service provider. Positive affective displays in service interactions are positively associated with important customer outcomes, such as intention to return and to recommend the store to a friend. It is the interest of organizations that their customers be happy, since a happy customer is a satisfied one. Research has shown that the emotional state of the customer is directly influenced by the emotions displayed by the employee/service provider via emotional contagion. But, this influence is dependent on the degree of authenticity of the employee's emotional display, such that if the employee is only surface-acting, the contagion of the customer is poor, in which case the beneficial effects stated above will not occur.

Married couples


Robert Levenson, Ph.D., researches human psychophysiology. Levenson uses longitudinal studies
Longitudinal study
A longitudinal study is a correlational research study that involves repeated observations of the same variables over long periods of time — often many decades. It is a type of observational study. Longitudinal studies are often used in psychology to study developmental trends across the...

 of married couples
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

' 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.

Heritability


Dr. Ed Diener maintains that genetics influences our positive and negative dispositions. David Lykken offers an emotional set point
Set point
Set point or setpoint might mean one of:* Set point , a tennis term meaning one player is one point away from winning a set* Set point , a term referring to any one of a number of quantities Set point or setpoint might mean one of:* Set point (tennis), a tennis term meaning one player is one point...

 theory he backs up with habitability studies of twins.

Children


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 will mimic a person's facial expressions such as smiling.

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.

Neurological mechanisms


Vittorio Gallese
Vittorio Gallese
Vittorio Gallese is professor of human physiology at the University of Parma, Italy with appointments in the departments of neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology. He is an expert in neurophysiology, neuroscience, social neuroscience, and philosophy of mind. Gallese is one of the discoverers of...

 posits that mirror neuron
Mirror neuron
A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behaviour of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other...

s are responsible for intentional attunement in relation to others. Gallese and colleagues at the University of Parma found a class of neurons in the premotor cortex
Premotor cortex
The premotor cortex is an area of motor cortex lying within the frontal lobe of the brain. It extends 3 mm anterior to the primary motor cortex, near the Sylvian fissure, before narrowing to approximately 1 mm near the medial longitudinal fissure, which serves as the posterior border for...

 that discharge when macaque monkeys execute goal-related hand movements or when they watch others doing the same action. One class of these neurons fires with action execution and observation, and with sound production of the same action. Research in humans shows an activation of the premotor cortex and parietal area of the brain for action perception and execution. 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. Other researchers have shown that observing someone else's emotions recruits brain regions involved in (a) experiencing similar emotions and (b) produce similar facial expressions. This combination of activations indicates that the observer activates (a) a representation of the emotional feeling of the other individual which would lead to emotional contagion and (b) a motor representation of the observed facial expression that could lead to facial mimicry. In the brain, understanding and sharing other individuals' emotions would thus be a combination of emotional contagion and facial mimicry. Importantly, more empathic individuals activate the brain regions involved in their own emotions more strongly while witnessing the emotions of other individuals.

Amygdala


The amygdala
Amygdala
The ' are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.-...

 is the part of the brain mechanism that underlies empathy and allows for emotional attunement and creates the pathway for emotional contagions. The basal 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 the 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.

Insulation and inoculation


The concept of insulating oneself from emotional contagion is called emotional detachment
Emotional detachment
Emotional detachment, in psychology, can mean two different things. In the first meaning, it refers to an "inability to connect" with others emotionally, as well as a means of dealing with anxiety by preventing certain situations that trigger it; it is often described as "emotional numbing" or...

. 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
Developmental biology
Developmental biology is the study of the process by which organisms grow and develop. Modern developmental biology studies the genetic control of cell growth, differentiation and "morphogenesis", which is the process that gives rise to tissues, organs and anatomy.- Related fields of study...

 or traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury , also known as intracranial injury, occurs when an external force traumatically injures the brain. TBI can be classified based on severity, mechanism , or other features...

 (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.

Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner
Howard Earl Gardner is an American developmental psychologist who is a professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero and author of over twenty books translated into thirty languages. Since 1995, he has...

 has developed his multiple intelligence
Theory of multiple intelligences
The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 as a model of intelligence that differentiates intelligence into various specific modalities, rather than seeing it as dominated by a single general ability....

 theory to include:
  • interpersonal intelligence, which 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, which 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.

See also


Further reading

  • The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (2009). J. Decety and W. Ickes (Eds.). Cambridge: MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. Emotional contagion. New York: Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    . (1994)
  • Lykken, D. Happiness: The nature and nurture of joy and contentment. New York: St. Martin's Press
    St. Martin's Press
    St. Martin's Press is a book publisher headquartered in the Flatiron Building in New York City. Currently, St. Martin's Press is one of the United States' largest publishers, bringing to the public some 700 titles a year under eight imprints, which include St. Martin's Press , St...

     Griffin. (2000)
  • Seligman, Martin
    Martin Seligman
    Martin E. P. "Marty" Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. His theory of "learned helplessness" is widely respected among scientific psychologists....

    . Authentic Happiness, Free Press
    Free Press (publisher)
    Free Press is a book publishing imprint of Simon and Schuster. It was founded by Jeremiah Kaplan and Charles Liebman in 1947 and was devoted to sociology and religion titles. It was headquartered in Glencoe, Illinois, where it was known as The Free Press of Glencoe...

     ( 2002)
  • Showalter, Elaine
    Elaine Showalter
    Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.She is well known and respected in both academic and popular...

     Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture New York: Columbia University Press
    Columbia University Press
    Columbia University Press is a university press based in New York City, and affiliated with Columbia University. It is currently directed by James D. Jordan and publishes titles in the humanities and sciences, including the fields of literary and cultural studies, history, social work, sociology,...

  • Goleman, Daniel
    Daniel Goleman
    Daniel Jay Goleman is an author, psychologist, and science journalist. For twelve years, he wrote for The New York Times, specializing in psychology and brain sciences. He is the author of more than 10 books on psychology, education, science, and leadership.-Life:Goleman was born in Stockton,...

     Working with Emotional Intelligence Bantam Books
    Bantam Books
    Bantam Books is an American publishing house owned entirely by Random House, the German media corporation subsidiary of Bertelsmann; it is an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group. It was formed in 1945 by Walter B. Pitkin, Jr., Sidney B. Kramer, and Ian and Betty Ballantine...

    . (1998)
  • Essel, David, M.S. Phoenix Soul Kona Press. (1998)
  • Martin, P. Y., Schrock, D., Leaf, M., & Rohr, C. V. (2008). Rape work: Emotional dilemmas in work with victims. In S. Fineman (Ed.), The emotional organization: Passions and power (pp. 44–60). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • McColl-Kennedy, J. R., & Smith, A. K. (2006). Customer emotions in service failure and recovery encounters. In N. M. Ashkanasy, W. J. Zerbe & C. E. J. Hartel (Series Eds.) & W. J. Zerbe, N. M. Ashkanasy & C. E. J. Hartel (Vol. Eds.), Research on emotion in organizations: Vol. 2. Individual and organizational perspectives on emotion management and display (pp. 237–268). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Worline, M. C., Wrzesniewski, A., & Rafaeli, A. (2002). Courage and work: Breaking routines to improve performance. In N. Schmitt (Series Ed.) & R. G. Lord, R. J. Klimoski & R. K. Kanfer (Vol. Eds.), The organizational frontier series: Vol. 16. Emotions in the workplace: Understanding the structure and role of emotions in organizational behavior (pp. 295–330). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

External links