Emotional Contagion: Your Positive Mood Is Catchy.

admin - Wednesday, July 13, 2016


I have heard a lot of people advocating ‘getting rid’ of negative people from your life and business managers advising to ‘move on’ negative people.  Whenever I’ve heard this, deep down in my bones, it has always felt wrong.

Now wait, I’m the first to advocate caution in who you select to model, because moods, attitudes and even behaviours ARE catchy.

Current neuro science supports this assertion. Research by Elaine Hatfield, explains how emotional contagion, the tendency to catch and feel emotions, is responsible for moods being catchy.  So, it may seem justified to avoid people who are feeling down or being negative.

I though, agree with Dr David Hamilton, Author of ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking’, who encourages those of us who are happy, not to avoid negative people.  He once suffered from depression himself and knows this is not a helpful way forward.

There is a better way.  We know our mirror neurons (here is an article on Mirror Neurons) (and this is another) replicate in our brain the same activity as the person we are observing.  This means that if I smile, while truly feeling happy, the neurons that make my smile muscles work WILL fire in the brain of the person I’m smiling at, even if they don’t smile on the outside.

We positive, happy people can use this understanding to be more confident in knowing that our positive mood is physically making a difference inside the  brain of the other person, even if we don’t see them change.

Why do we think the negative is more powerful than the positive, anyway? I know this not to be true.

Positive can more powerful than negative. Think about this…

‘You can shine a light in the dark, but you can’t bring dark into the light’.

Knowing this fact, you can go ahead in the confidence that your positiveness – even your smile – is having a useful effect.

But it still is true that the negative emotions of others can seem to knock our positive feet out from under us? Why is this? It is because as humans we can only experience one state at a time AND the most intense state wins. Often when we feel another’s emotion and it is heavy or down, we can be tempted to counter that with uplifting comments – seeking to ‘change their mind’. Good luck with that. Too much goes on in the mind for us to think we can control that.

What is more effective is to put your attention on your own ‘mood’ and intensify that. I imagine I have a volume dial on my mood and just ramp up my own mood. First I re-associate with the mood I have chosen – perhaps gratitude – perhaps joy – and then I invite that feeling to expand through my body and the space around me – my own ‘body space’ you might call it. Often times when I do, a smile tickles the corners of my mouth. Sometimes, when it is more appropriate, the smile happens on the inside.

Perhaps you’d like to try this… when someone is cranky, meet their eye – make sure they are really seeing you – and then fire off a positive thought inside your own mind and see what happens.