How contagious are emotions?
Articles / Blog
01-20-15 Category: Mental Health

emotions contagious

Sometimes, despite a person being charming and positive in nature, we still feel an unexplainable amount of unease around them. Many psychologists believe that, in many cases, this is due to our subconscious perception of their non-verbal communication. Most of our ability to feel empathy is due to body language and facial expressions, something that is not surprising considering that over half of all communication is believed to be non-verbal in nature. Studies on physiological responses to others’ emotions have shown that we have built in emotional processes that influence our own mood and perception of others, making emotional contagion a significant force in group situations.

A recent study that examined the effect of emotional contagions in group dynamics not only found it to be more contagious than had previously been thought, but responsible for better decision making as well. The study divided two groups of business school students, simulating a management exercise in the workplace with each student role playing as the head of a department. The students were asked to advocate for an employee to get a merit-based raise while also having to be part of a “salary committee,” negotiating how to allocate the funds for it at the same time. Each group included an actor (unbeknownst to the students) that conveyed one of four moods: cheerful enthusiasm, serene warmth, hostile irritability and depressed sluggishness.

The results revealed the groups in which the actor spread positive emotions not only lead to increases in positive mood in the test groups, but higher levels of cooperation and reduced amounts of interpersonal conflict compared to the groups with negative emotions. The members of the positive group also felt that they made better decisions about the employee’s raise, allocating the available money more fairly. The reasons the students gave for the amount of money they used included their own negotiating skills as well as the personal qualities of the employees they had been assigned, unaware that their emotions were influenced by an actor seeded in the test group.

Emotional contagions in the work place

The results of this study are very applicable to the business world, where all corporate cultures embrace an expected amount of negativity due to the hierarchical structures they employ. By employing a better management of their emotions, managers can create more functional team dynamics, increasing productivity and reducing the turnover rate in their companies.

Simple methods to cultivate awareness of our emotions include limiting eye contact when in a negative mood (and increasing it when in a positive mood) as well as doing the same for body language. Avoiding things such as crossing one’s arms, sitting faced away from the person, or texting while they are talking to you can project an image of being defensive, angry, or disinterested with the people who are attempting to talk to you.

Workplaces that have embraced more open and compassionate corporate cultures (such as Zappos’ free swearing policy and Google’s slides/armory of nerf guns) have shown to benefit from increased levels of teamwork, less absenteeism and emotional “burnout.” Although it is not always easy to be aware of our emotions in any given moment, let alone the effect they are having on others, the result is simple: happier employees make for more productive companies, with positivity going much further in motivating and encouraging teamwork than any amount of negative reinforcement.

At Sovereign Health, we are very familiar with the impact of negativity on one’s ability to accomplish difficult tasks such as fighting addiction, maintaining a positive atmosphere to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal and facilitate recovery. If you would like to learn more, feel free to browse the reviews on our site or contact us today.

Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer

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