A respected researcher, Sigal Barsade who’s been looking into and studying emotional contagion for many years says emotions spread among people like a virus that thrives in the air. From her findings and observations from other research studies on the subject, here are three ways through which your emotions are actually spread :
- The inflection of your voice – It’s one of the principal ways we transmit how we feel to other people and generally, they’re able to grasp the feelings they deduce from the tone of our voice. In other words, it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.
In an interesting study conducted by Roland Neumann and Franz Strack, they had participants listened to several actors reading an impartial spiel using happy, sad and neutral inflections. The findings? The group who listened to the actor with a positive inflection reported feeling optimistic. Those who stayed with the actor with sad inflection didn’t like it at all.
- Our tiny facial muscles – Experts say that when we talk with other people, we are unaware that we’re mimicking the micro-movements of the other person’s facial muscles. This happens automatically in milliseconds, without us being conscious of it.
Be it their lips, eyebrows or eyes, we’re actually attuned to the subtle movements of other peoples’ tiny facial muscles. For instance, when you see a guy who just spotted a tiger nearby, your brain cells, called mirror neurons decode the other person’s facial expression as an expression of his fear. This involuntary mimicking activates a mental and emotional state that jives with the other person so that you yourself also feel his fear and could have spelled the difference between life and death.
- Facebook posts- While the previous two surprising ways emotions are spread mostly have to do with subconscious movements and mimicry, verbal and non-verbal cues, a
A study done by Facebook and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States says emotional contagion can also happen based only on words.
In this study Facebook steered users news feeds towards mostly positive or mostly negative content. The users’ subsequent posts turned out to be either more positive or more negative depending on which group they were in. These observations indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook also influence our emotions, constituting evidence (though experimental) that this expansive emotional contagion could also occur and in fact, be happening in social media.
So, what’s the point of all this? This whole exercise says we’re spreading our emotions without knowing it or simply being unaware of it. So, if you want to make sure you’re spreading what you’d like to transmit, then take care of yourself, emotionally.