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You know that person at work who is always complaining about something? Everything just seems to be a downward spiral for this person and they think the world is their audience to broadcast their seemingly never-ending problems. And you realize the longer you listen and engage with him or her, your mood begins to take a plummet as well? Or conversely, that one friend who is always smiling and seems to just radiate happy energy to anyone around? You may notice that you feel happier and are smiling more often while you are with this person. Well, this is known as emotional contagion. And once you are aware of and understand emotional contagion, you can use it to your benefit.

But, first things first. What exactly is emotional contagion? Emotional contagion is the idea that one person’s emotions can directly trigger similar emotions in other people. Whether it be facial expressions, body language or spoken dialect, we as individuals pick up on these cues in a mirroring effect. Additionally, studies have shown that emotional contagion primarily occurs un-consciously. For example, let’s say you walk up to a group of people and they are all laughing. Even though you don’t know what they are laughing at, without even realizing it, you are smiling and laughing along with them. Emotional contagion allows us to be aware of the emotions of those around us, which in turn can make us more empathetic and understanding to other people’s emotions.

So, what are the effects of emotional contagion and what can we learn from them? This may seem like a no-brainer, but surrounding yourself with happy and positive people will increase your own happiness. While in the company of those who are at ease, relaxed and content, you too will pick up on this relaxed state of being. This, of course, would be a positive effect of emotional contagion.

On the other hand, you may find yourself in the company of an individual who is chronically frustrated or angry.  You may find yourself weary of spending too much time with him or her. However, my advice would be not to avoid these individuals, but try to smile and laugh and lift up their spirits. Recognize that body language and facial expressions alone reflect mood, so by simply smiling more and sitting in an upright, confident posture, can uplift one’s mood.

Another place where emotional contagion is especially effective is the work place. It is very easy to pick up on the emotions and energy of those around us while in small groups, which can of course effect people’s moods. Furthermore, it can influence judgement and work-related decisions. When we, especially those in an administrative role, acknowledge emotional contagion and use it to our benefit in the work place we can create groups that are team-oriented and more collaborative.

Emotional contagion is present on a daily basis whether you realize it or not. Whether it be in a social setting or a work setting, the moods and facial expressions of those around us have an effect on us an individuals. Once we become aware of this phenomenon, we can use it to create a happier, more positive environment.

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