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Emotional Contagion: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:02 What Is Emotional Contagion?
  • 0:31 Possible Causes
  • 1:55 An Experiment
  • 2:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Vidhi Desai
Ever wonder why you're happier around happy people and annoyed around annoyed people? There is a phenomenon called emotional contagion that explains this! Find out more in this lesson.

What Is Emotional Contagion?

Look in the mirror. What do you see? Your reflection, right? Did you know that there is something in animals, including humans, that makes us take on the emotions of those we are around, almost as if we were mirroring them?

Emotional contagion is a term that describes the fact that we take on the moods and attitudes of those around us. While people generally don't act exactly identical to those around them, moods of surrounding people can rub off on us. Let's look at some possible causes of why this is.

Possible Causes

There are two concepts that, taken together, might explain emotional contagion:

1. Facial Feedback Hypothesis: This concept proposes that when our facial muscles change into a smile or a frown, our brains respond in a way that matches the facial muscles. Some believe that people should act the way they want to feel - and some research testing the theory of facial feedback has indicated that this might be true. People who were stressed out were asked to smile for a period of time and reported that they felt better.

2. Mirror Neuron System: This refers to a group of neurons that mimics the facial expressions, attitudes, and talking tones of those around us. Here is an example from the animal world: think of a group of animals around a watering hole. When one senses danger, it acts panicked. Then other animals catch on to the fact that something is awry, and soon enough, all of the animals are concerned. As a result of a perceived threat, they may all run and hide.

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