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Bad Moods Are Contagious (Good Moods, Too)

Scientists say the mood you are in is just as contagious as a cold. By imitating the emotions of others, we help form in-groups that confer evolutionary advantages on its members. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Just as you may avoid someone coughing all day, so as not to catch their germs, moods may be just a contagious as communicable diseases, say psychologists. Called emotional contagion, the process of transferring our emotions to others has three steps: “The first stage involves nonconscious mimicry, during which individuals subtly copy one another’s nonverbal cues, including posture, facial expressions and movements. In effect, seeing my frown makes you more likely to frown. People may then experience a feedback stage–because you frowned, you now feel sad. During the final contagion stage, individuals share their experiences until their emotions and behaviors become synchronized.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While nobody wants to be put in a bad mood, emotional mimicry seems to confer the evolutionary advantage of creating an in-group that shares the sames thoughts and feelings. “Recent research suggests that mimicry is more common when the person is someone close to you, such as a family member, good friend or romantic partner.” Thus the tighter the in-group, the more emotional mimicry occurs. Another study has revealed that subconscious mimicry occurs more often in empathetic people, suggesting that the creation of emotional bonds is one clear benefit. For that reason, good moods are just as contagious as bad moods, say scientists. 

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