Emotional contagion is the transference of an emotion from one animal to another or from group to group. The emotion may be expressed through facial expressions, body language, vocalizations, behavior and words. Because of primates’ ability to empathize and propensity for social behavior, humans are primed to “catch” others’ emotions. In a survival situation, this can be useful to ensure that all members of a group act in concert, and research suggests that emotional contagion is heightened when subjects feel threatened. For instance, if the approach of a large predator causes fear to spread, elevating the sympathetic nervous system in preparation for fight or flight, and that fear turns to rage, the group will be better prepared to act together to battle the foe and more likely to succeed. Here is an unusual example of this.
Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers have found that emotional contagion can spread even when there is no physical proximity of individuals, through telephone conversations and even email. Emoticons are not necessary (although they are fun! 😉
It’s not always in one’s best interest to pick up on others’ emotions, especially when they are negative. Gretchen explains how to avoid this in this short video.
If you think animals have fewer facial expressions than humans, think again…