Moods: Are They Contagious?

Reviewed Feb 28, 2017

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Summary

The more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to "catch" others’ moods.

Everything is fine and you feel content. Then suddenly your mood shifts—you feel tense, out of sorts, a bit down. What happened? You might investigate causes—is it hunger or fatigue? Perhaps it’s hormones, a stray negative thought, or a change in the weather.

As you run through the list of usual suspects that might sabotage your mood, don’t forget to consider people in the room with you or who were just in your presence. Their mood might have influenced yours, without you even knowing it!

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

According to child development researcher Robert Emde, you were born wired to mimic the facial expressions, postures, and sounds of others, helping you begin to differentiate various emotions, even as an infant. Consider this: With your very young perception, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

According to Dr. Elaine Hatfield, author of Emotional Contagion, that tendency to imitate the subtle emotional expressions of others is still present in adults. Without realizing it, your face can begin to form a frown, your voice can take on a certain edge, your fists can clench … simply because the person with you is modeling those behaviors.

And the mood change? According to theory, your body may pick up on the muscular and glandular changes spurred by the mimicking, and then you may notice a mood or feeling. Try this experiment: Hold a smile, faked or otherwise, for a few seconds and notice any subtle mood changes. You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Know your sensitivity

Over your lifetime, you developed an emotional temperament. You are somewhere at or between the extremes that Dr. Hatfield describes as “extremely sensitive” and “oblivious to others’ feelings.” Hatfield maintains that the more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to catch others’ moods. Don’t berate yourself for being vulnerable; rather, consider your sensitivity a strength. Dr. Hatfield commends you for being “wonderful at understanding and dealing with others.”

Coping with mood contagion

Do you tend to be sensitive? Don’t start avoiding all human contact for fear of being infected with unwanted feelings. Recent research suggests that any mood you catch, good or bad, has no real staying power. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will dissipate as you go on with your day. Just being aware that someone else’s mood might be causing you discomfort is often all you need to know in order to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s the company you presently keep, try the following suggestions:

  • Relax any tight muscles you notice.
  • Let your face muscles go slack, then smile, if it won’t offend the other person.
  • Notice your voice tone—try to soften it if needed.
  • Focus on your breathing—shift to slow, deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself that the mood will pass in due time.
  • Direct positive thoughts to that person.
  • Separate your identity from the other person—your angry spouse is not you and you are not responsible for her moods.
  • Get away from the person for a while and do something relaxing and enjoyable, even if it’s just a walk around the block.

Dr. Hatfield asserts that you need to limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. She recommends that you “go home, be absolutely quiet, and recover.” If the contagious one is in your home, arrange a special room or private nook that everyone in the house understands is your getaway.

Spreading good moods

If moods really are contagious, think what influence you could have in the lives of those around you! While you are not responsible for someone else’s mood, why not try some of these suggestions?

  • Smile at everyone you see at home, work, out and about, etc.
  • Remind yourself to use a calm, pleasant voice with slow clerks and tense co-workers.
  • Make funny faces at your cranky child to evoke laughter.
  • Hum or whistle a happy tune in public if it won’t be rude or disruptive.

Maybe you won’t have the comfort to try all of these suggestions, but the gift of one smile from you today might be just the lift someone else needs.

Resource

Emotional Contagion by Frederic P. Miller . VDM Publishing House Ltd., 2009. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Dr. Elaine Hatfield, department of psychology, University of Hawaii; Robert N. Emde. (1998) “Early Emotional Development: New Modes of Thinking for Research and Intervention.” Pediatrics (102): 1236-1243; How to Achieve Emotional Control by Mark Lindsay, Terra Libra Holdings, 1996; Kaja Perina. (2003) “Depression a Deux: Choosing Partners With the Same Emotional Baseline.” Psychology Today (Jan-Feb); Sigal G. Barsade (2002). “The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior.” Administrative Science Quarterly (Dec)

Summary

The more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to "catch" others’ moods.

Everything is fine and you feel content. Then suddenly your mood shifts—you feel tense, out of sorts, a bit down. What happened? You might investigate causes—is it hunger or fatigue? Perhaps it’s hormones, a stray negative thought, or a change in the weather.

As you run through the list of usual suspects that might sabotage your mood, don’t forget to consider people in the room with you or who were just in your presence. Their mood might have influenced yours, without you even knowing it!

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

According to child development researcher Robert Emde, you were born wired to mimic the facial expressions, postures, and sounds of others, helping you begin to differentiate various emotions, even as an infant. Consider this: With your very young perception, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

According to Dr. Elaine Hatfield, author of Emotional Contagion, that tendency to imitate the subtle emotional expressions of others is still present in adults. Without realizing it, your face can begin to form a frown, your voice can take on a certain edge, your fists can clench … simply because the person with you is modeling those behaviors.

And the mood change? According to theory, your body may pick up on the muscular and glandular changes spurred by the mimicking, and then you may notice a mood or feeling. Try this experiment: Hold a smile, faked or otherwise, for a few seconds and notice any subtle mood changes. You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Know your sensitivity

Over your lifetime, you developed an emotional temperament. You are somewhere at or between the extremes that Dr. Hatfield describes as “extremely sensitive” and “oblivious to others’ feelings.” Hatfield maintains that the more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to catch others’ moods. Don’t berate yourself for being vulnerable; rather, consider your sensitivity a strength. Dr. Hatfield commends you for being “wonderful at understanding and dealing with others.”

Coping with mood contagion

Do you tend to be sensitive? Don’t start avoiding all human contact for fear of being infected with unwanted feelings. Recent research suggests that any mood you catch, good or bad, has no real staying power. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will dissipate as you go on with your day. Just being aware that someone else’s mood might be causing you discomfort is often all you need to know in order to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s the company you presently keep, try the following suggestions:

  • Relax any tight muscles you notice.
  • Let your face muscles go slack, then smile, if it won’t offend the other person.
  • Notice your voice tone—try to soften it if needed.
  • Focus on your breathing—shift to slow, deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself that the mood will pass in due time.
  • Direct positive thoughts to that person.
  • Separate your identity from the other person—your angry spouse is not you and you are not responsible for her moods.
  • Get away from the person for a while and do something relaxing and enjoyable, even if it’s just a walk around the block.

Dr. Hatfield asserts that you need to limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. She recommends that you “go home, be absolutely quiet, and recover.” If the contagious one is in your home, arrange a special room or private nook that everyone in the house understands is your getaway.

Spreading good moods

If moods really are contagious, think what influence you could have in the lives of those around you! While you are not responsible for someone else’s mood, why not try some of these suggestions?

  • Smile at everyone you see at home, work, out and about, etc.
  • Remind yourself to use a calm, pleasant voice with slow clerks and tense co-workers.
  • Make funny faces at your cranky child to evoke laughter.
  • Hum or whistle a happy tune in public if it won’t be rude or disruptive.

Maybe you won’t have the comfort to try all of these suggestions, but the gift of one smile from you today might be just the lift someone else needs.

Resource

Emotional Contagion by Frederic P. Miller . VDM Publishing House Ltd., 2009. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Dr. Elaine Hatfield, department of psychology, University of Hawaii; Robert N. Emde. (1998) “Early Emotional Development: New Modes of Thinking for Research and Intervention.” Pediatrics (102): 1236-1243; How to Achieve Emotional Control by Mark Lindsay, Terra Libra Holdings, 1996; Kaja Perina. (2003) “Depression a Deux: Choosing Partners With the Same Emotional Baseline.” Psychology Today (Jan-Feb); Sigal G. Barsade (2002). “The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior.” Administrative Science Quarterly (Dec)

Summary

The more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to "catch" others’ moods.

Everything is fine and you feel content. Then suddenly your mood shifts—you feel tense, out of sorts, a bit down. What happened? You might investigate causes—is it hunger or fatigue? Perhaps it’s hormones, a stray negative thought, or a change in the weather.

As you run through the list of usual suspects that might sabotage your mood, don’t forget to consider people in the room with you or who were just in your presence. Their mood might have influenced yours, without you even knowing it!

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

According to child development researcher Robert Emde, you were born wired to mimic the facial expressions, postures, and sounds of others, helping you begin to differentiate various emotions, even as an infant. Consider this: With your very young perception, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

According to Dr. Elaine Hatfield, author of Emotional Contagion, that tendency to imitate the subtle emotional expressions of others is still present in adults. Without realizing it, your face can begin to form a frown, your voice can take on a certain edge, your fists can clench … simply because the person with you is modeling those behaviors.

And the mood change? According to theory, your body may pick up on the muscular and glandular changes spurred by the mimicking, and then you may notice a mood or feeling. Try this experiment: Hold a smile, faked or otherwise, for a few seconds and notice any subtle mood changes. You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Know your sensitivity

Over your lifetime, you developed an emotional temperament. You are somewhere at or between the extremes that Dr. Hatfield describes as “extremely sensitive” and “oblivious to others’ feelings.” Hatfield maintains that the more sensitive you are, the more likely you are to catch others’ moods. Don’t berate yourself for being vulnerable; rather, consider your sensitivity a strength. Dr. Hatfield commends you for being “wonderful at understanding and dealing with others.”

Coping with mood contagion

Do you tend to be sensitive? Don’t start avoiding all human contact for fear of being infected with unwanted feelings. Recent research suggests that any mood you catch, good or bad, has no real staying power. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will dissipate as you go on with your day. Just being aware that someone else’s mood might be causing you discomfort is often all you need to know in order to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s the company you presently keep, try the following suggestions:

  • Relax any tight muscles you notice.
  • Let your face muscles go slack, then smile, if it won’t offend the other person.
  • Notice your voice tone—try to soften it if needed.
  • Focus on your breathing—shift to slow, deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself that the mood will pass in due time.
  • Direct positive thoughts to that person.
  • Separate your identity from the other person—your angry spouse is not you and you are not responsible for her moods.
  • Get away from the person for a while and do something relaxing and enjoyable, even if it’s just a walk around the block.

Dr. Hatfield asserts that you need to limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. She recommends that you “go home, be absolutely quiet, and recover.” If the contagious one is in your home, arrange a special room or private nook that everyone in the house understands is your getaway.

Spreading good moods

If moods really are contagious, think what influence you could have in the lives of those around you! While you are not responsible for someone else’s mood, why not try some of these suggestions?

  • Smile at everyone you see at home, work, out and about, etc.
  • Remind yourself to use a calm, pleasant voice with slow clerks and tense co-workers.
  • Make funny faces at your cranky child to evoke laughter.
  • Hum or whistle a happy tune in public if it won’t be rude or disruptive.

Maybe you won’t have the comfort to try all of these suggestions, but the gift of one smile from you today might be just the lift someone else needs.

Resource

Emotional Contagion by Frederic P. Miller . VDM Publishing House Ltd., 2009. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Dr. Elaine Hatfield, department of psychology, University of Hawaii; Robert N. Emde. (1998) “Early Emotional Development: New Modes of Thinking for Research and Intervention.” Pediatrics (102): 1236-1243; How to Achieve Emotional Control by Mark Lindsay, Terra Libra Holdings, 1996; Kaja Perina. (2003) “Depression a Deux: Choosing Partners With the Same Emotional Baseline.” Psychology Today (Jan-Feb); Sigal G. Barsade (2002). “The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior.” Administrative Science Quarterly (Dec)

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