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Emotional Contagion 🦠
This is probably not the type of contagion you were expecting to read about right now. It’s about emotional contagion - what emerging neuroscience tells us about the spread of emotions.
It is fascinating - it will completely change how you think about your interactions with others!
What is emotional contagion?
Emotions can be “caught” from other people. This might make intuitive sense - for example you might notice you are drawn to cheerful people.
We tend to unconsciously mimic those around us. We mimic facial expressions, vocal expressions, and postures of those around us. This causes us to "catch" others emotions.
How does this happen?
Scientists have captured the attunement of emotions in the laboratory by measuring the physiology — such as heart rate — of two people in conversation. As the interaction begins, their bodies operate at different rhythms. But after 15 minutes, the physiological profiles of their bodies look remarkably similar.
Scientists describe the open loop as “interpersonal limbic regulation”; one person transmits signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms, even immune functions, inside the body of another. ...in all aspects of social life, our physiologies intermingle. Our limbic system’s open-loop design lets other people change our very physiology and hence, our emotions.
Emotions can even be caught without a single word being uttered:
Psychologists found that even completely nonverbal expressiveness can affect other people. For example, when three strangers sit facing one another in silence for a minute or two, the most emotionally expressive of the three transmits his or her mood to the other two — without a single word being spoken.
Why is this interesting?
The contagious nature of emotions is not very widely known, but the implications for organizations are huge. It's been suggested that "the emotions people bring to work are as important as their cognitive skills".
The implications for your personal and home life are also huge. Be careful who you choose to cohabitate with and the emotions everyone contributes!
Want to go deeper?
🤔 This certainly adds new weight to Jim Rohn's quip
you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with
📖 The book Primal Leadership summarizes the research and more
🔖 A great HBR article on emotional contagion
👁️ I didn't even begin to unpack eye contact here, but you can go deeper into the impact of eye contact for brain state communication here. (This is particularly interesting in a time where we are increasingly reliant on videoconferencing - a medium which makes eye contact difficult.)
🧠 Build your latticework! Related mental models:
🔖 The studies:
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