Emotional Contagion

Emotional contagion is the phenomenon in which a person experiences similar emotions as those around them. I have definitely experienced emotional contagion on many occasions throughout my life. For example, just this past week I was sitting in my living room doing homework when one of my roommates came in and started complaining about how bad her day was. After talking with her and experiencing her anger and frustration, I noticed that my mood began to shift as well; before she came in the room, I was feeling rather content, however, after our conversation I was feeling really angry and even had to take a break from my homework for a while because I was so agitated. Additionally, what I thought was really interesting about this is that I knew I was experiencing this change in mood because of emotional contagion, but I still found it hard to get myself back into the mood I was in before.

A group of researchers also did a study on emotional contagion by using Facebook to manipulate the types of posts users saw in their newsfeed. One group saw negative posts and the other group saw more positive posts. They then looked at how viewing these posts affected the types of posts the participants themselves made. What they found was that the emotional content of the posts in the participants newsfeed did in fact have in affect on the emotional content of their own posts. So for those who saw more negative posts in their news feed, they tended to post negative comments/statuses as well (and vice versa), which provided further evidence for the emotional contagion phenomenon.

Nicholas Christakis’s TED talk, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks” touched on the topic of emotional contagion in a different way. Rather than discussing how people experience similar emotions as those around them, Christaki explained how people’s attitudes and behaviors tend to parallel those they interact with as well. More specifically, he gave an example of the obese population using an image that represents the different social networks people have and the ways in which they connect and overlap. This image consisted of different color dots (yellow dots represented obese individuals and red dots represented individuals with a normal BMI) and dots of different sizes (the sizes reflected the person’s BMI). By looking at this image, you can see clusters of different colored and sized dots. Christaki explained that this showed how obese individuals tend to interact more with other obese individuals. In fact, he even gave the statistic that if your friends are obese, you have a 45% higher chance of being obese as well. Likewise, even if your friend’s friend is obese, your risk of obesity is still 25% higher!

What was even more interesting about this TED talk was that when Christaki compared people’s friendships and social circles, they found that these connections between people can be attributed to your genes! For example, 46% of the variation in the amount of friends you have is caused by your genes. Which Christaki explained is due to your level of shyness. However, they also found that your genes cause 47% of variation in whether your friends know each other. This means that whether your friends know each other is due to your genes. I thought this was extremely interesting because I never knew that your genes as a third party to a relationship could have such an impact! Christaki explained that he thought this could be due to the fact that some people are just more likely to introduce their friends to each other. I can definitely relate to this because I love when my friends know one another and we can all hang out together, however, my boyfriend likes keeping his groups separate. Therefore, whenever I hang out with my friends, it’s always one big group. However, when my boyfriend hangs out with his friends, it tends to be multiple smaller groups.

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