Moods: Are They Contagious?

Reviewed Mar 12, 2019

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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? Is it hunger? Are you tired?

Maybe it’s the people you’re with. Their mood might have influenced yours without you even knowing it.

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

We were born to mimic others. We mirror facial expressions, postures, and sounds. This helps us identify our own emotions. Even as a toddler, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

We imitate others even as adults. If you're with someone who is angry, you might frown or clench your fists. Your mood may react to these physical cues and you feel angry, too. Try this experiment: Hold a smile for a few seconds. Does your mood lift? You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Coping with mood contagion

Some people are more sensitive to other people’s moods. Don’t worry if that describes you. Any mood you catch is sure to pass. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will fade as you go on with your day. Just be aware that someone else’s mood might be affecting yours. Often, that’s all you need to know to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s who you’re with, 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.

Limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. If you live with that person, have 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. 

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? Is it hunger? Are you tired?

Maybe it’s the people you’re with. Their mood might have influenced yours without you even knowing it.

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

We were born to mimic others. We mirror facial expressions, postures, and sounds. This helps us identify our own emotions. Even as a toddler, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

We imitate others even as adults. If you're with someone who is angry, you might frown or clench your fists. Your mood may react to these physical cues and you feel angry, too. Try this experiment: Hold a smile for a few seconds. Does your mood lift? You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Coping with mood contagion

Some people are more sensitive to other people’s moods. Don’t worry if that describes you. Any mood you catch is sure to pass. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will fade as you go on with your day. Just be aware that someone else’s mood might be affecting yours. Often, that’s all you need to know to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s who you’re with, 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.

Limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. If you live with that person, have 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. 

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? Is it hunger? Are you tired?

Maybe it’s the people you’re with. Their mood might have influenced yours without you even knowing it.

Wired to read and mimic others’ emotions

We were born to mimic others. We mirror facial expressions, postures, and sounds. This helps us identify our own emotions. Even as a toddler, you knew Mom’s angry face, Dad’s worried voice, Nanny’s sad posture, etc.

We imitate others even as adults. If you're with someone who is angry, you might frown or clench your fists. Your mood may react to these physical cues and you feel angry, too. Try this experiment: Hold a smile for a few seconds. Does your mood lift? You know the smile is faked, but your brain chemistry may not.

Coping with mood contagion

Some people are more sensitive to other people’s moods. Don’t worry if that describes you. Any mood you catch is sure to pass. That tension you feel after a meeting with an uptight client will fade as you go on with your day. Just be aware that someone else’s mood might be affecting yours. Often, that’s all you need to know to feel better.

When your mood drops and you suspect it’s who you’re with, 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.

Limit the amount of time you spend with someone whose emotions cause you distress. If you live with that person, have 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. 

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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