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This article is the fifth and final article in a series about harnessing the power of Emotional Contagion in order to improve our lives. The first article describes what emotional contagion is and the research that led to its discovery. The second article discusses the importance of emotional contagion for human survival from an evolutionary perspective. The third article offers tips for managing one’s own emotions, and the fourth article discusses how to improve your empathy skills, i.e., how to recognize and understand the emotions of others. Please read those articles before proceeding.

Exciting new scientific research on Emotional Contagion inspired this series of articles. Emotional contagion explains how emotional signals are passed from one person to another through mechanisms that operate mainly beneath the level of consciousness. Our goal in exploring the way this phenomenon works has been to elevate emotional contagion to the level of conscious awareness so that we can harness its power to improve our lives.

We can exercise choice over our emotional responses

We learned in Seven Tips for Improving Your Emotional Intelligence that it’s important to pay attention to our emotions, both the comfortable and uncomfortable ones, because they contain vital information that can help guide our decisions and actions.  In Why Empathy is Declining and How to Inspire More, we got some tips to help us use emotional contagion in order to tune in to the emotions of our partners, friends, and loved ones. Empathy is the key to creating harmonious relationships.

Remember, Emotions are Contagious

Do you remember your reaction to the startling discovery revealed in the first article of this series – Emotions are contagious. Did you picture catching someone’s bad mood bug? Or did you imagine feeling uplifted after seeing someone smile?

We know that we can’t dodge emotional contagion even if we try. It’s a universal human trait that is hardwired into our genes. It is constantly involved in determining our emotional reactions and behavior, for better or for worse. We continue to resonate with other’s emotions throughout our lives. However, research shows that emotional regulation strategies can be effective for controlling emotional contagion. While it is easy to get caught in the grip of emotional contagion (road rage, for example) ultimately we can exercise choice over our emotional responses.

Emotions Influence Perception, Learning and Decision-Making

It is very important to manage emotional contagion because scientific studies show that emotions have a substantial influence on perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning and problem solving. Other researchers have shown that emotions have an impact on performance, productivity, decision making, creativity, turnover and teamwork.

You don’t just catch emotion from others. You also transmit emotions. So, whether you are a parent, teacher, student, boss, employee or partner, the point is this – how can you make emotional contagion work for you instead of against you? How can you use emotional contagion to reduce your susceptibility to its negative impact and to improve your ability to spread positive emotions?

Strategies for Deflecting Unwanted Emotion 

Awareness is the key. Emotions infect us unconsciously, so being aware of the phenomena of emotional contagion is crucial. There are important strategies for when you notice that you are being exposed to the mood of others who are unconsciously acting out feelings like anger, hostility and helplessness.

  1. Move your facial muscles differently. Remember how your body tends to mimic the other person’s emotional expressions? Interrupt the flow of negative emotional data from the facial muscles to the brain by doing something different with your face to send different data to the brain instead.
  2. Adjust your posture. Sit or stand up straight in a relaxed posture and breathe comfortably from your diaphragm.
  3. Be patient. It can take a few minutes for your brain to register the corrective signals from your body.
  4. Avoid eye contact.
  5. Imagine an invisible shield going up around you so that only positive emotions can come in, and negative emotions bounce off.
  6. Use negative situations as an opportunity for strengthening mindful awareness.

Steps to Promote Positive Emotion

No matter your role, you are in a position to create a positive momentum for emotional change. This requires a positive mindset and the ability to shift your emotional state when interacting with others. Intentionally focusing on acting and feeling positive triggers emotions at the subconscious level in others. It will contribute to developing a healthy, productive, harmonious home, classroom, workplace and relationship.

Try these tips:

  1. Wear a smile. A lot.
  2. Be consciously aware of your own mood. Practice deliberately lifting you own spirits before interacting with others.
  3. Listen intently without being distracted. Stay open; it allows for listening to new possibilities.
  4. See the positive and negative side to everything and practice adapting to the positive.
  5. Provide positive responses to others.
  6. Make eye contact to spread positive emotions faster, but limit your eye contact with persistently negative people to neutralize their influence.
  7. Avoid negative body language. The researchers point out that the majority of communication is nonverbal, and much of it is body language. So uncross your arms, monitor your facial expression, smile and be open and welcoming.
  8. Use words that inspire, encourage and motivate. Practice making positive statements, avoiding the words not, no, and can’t.
  9. Compliment freely.
  10. Surprise someone every day with a compassionate act.
  11. Inject humor and fun into activities and laugh. A lot.

Emotional Contagion is Powerful Mojo

Let’s use emotional contagion to our advantage. Let’s create environments where children, friends and peers feel safe, positive and motivated. The French philosopher Alain said, “It is very true that we ought to think of the happiness of others; but it is not often enough said that the best thing we can do for those who love us is to be happy ourselves.” Someone smiles, you smile.

Emotional contagion is powerful mojo. How can you start an “epidemic” of positive emotions?

Contributed by

Bob Avenson
Senior Faculty - Group Support

Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway.

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