People from across all boarders would agree with me that despite the language barriers we may have, we can all understand one another. And that is through our emotions. That despite the fact that we may not be able to understand verbally, we can sense, feel each other’s feelings and make the proper links. But have we ever considered how we react, emotionally, to their emotion?
It was already established that people have a natural tendency to mimic each other. The most common thing that we mimic is our voice patterns, or our minute mannerisms, but believe it or not, the transference of emotions can also happen.
Emotions can be shared across individuals in many different ways both implicitly or explicitly. For instance, conscious reasoning, analysis and imagination have all been found to contribute to the phenomenon.
It’s called Emotional contagion. This is the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge. One view developed by Elaine Hatfield is that this kind of transferences is already carried with the mimicry done in The Chameleon Effect that is happening in the status quo right now.
Emotional contagion is important to personal relationships because it fosters emotional synchrony between individuals. A broader definition of the phenomenon was suggested by Schoenwolf: “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions of behaviour of another person or group through the conscious of unconscious induction and behavioural attitudes”.
How does empathy play in the mix? Well, empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.
Being an empathic person allows you to be more vulnerable to emotional contagion. It might be good if the emotion being circulated was something positive such as camaraderie, or the urge to move in a bar. But sometimes it can also be something negative like sadness, or even to the more extreme end of the spectrum. And depending on the person, the reactions and the possible coping mechanisms differ.
As a seriously empathic person myself, I tend to connect with other people more easily than others. It allows me to channel the right fit for advices, I guess. It also allows me to understand the person better. But this is not always a good thing. Sometimes I unconsciously delve too deep into their emotions, and it sometimes affect me more negatively than positive. Take Angelina Jolie, for example. She is an empathic person, and the negativity she absorbs channel into the coping mechanism of self-harm.
An interesting glitch in the psychological world came when in 2012, The National Academy of Sciences, in which researches from Facebook and Cornell University teamed up to study emotional contagion with Facebook users as their sample group. They had a sample size of 689 003 – possible the largest in the history of psychology.
Over a one-week period in 2012, they changed the content of news feeds for a random sample of Facebook users. For one group of users, they removed content that contain positive words. For another group, they removed content that contained negative words. Then they measured whether subtly biasing the emotional content in this way changed the emotional content of status updates by the users.
Sure enough, it did. Making feeds more negative led to more negative behaviour, and vice versa. The study show that very small changes in the emotional state of our environment can have knock-on effects for how we act (and presumably how we feel) in social networks. On the other hand, the effects in the study are miniscule, among the smallest statistically significant results ever published.
Yet, the most standout factor that has driven this study in the spotlight isn’t the lapses in the study, but the fact that the researches failed to obtain consent from thousands of Facebook users who were subjected to the intervention. Informed consent is a core principle of human research ethics.
What do you guys think? How does emotional contagion play a role in social situations both in cyberspace and in real life? Do you agree with the comment that the “Facebook research” had miniscule effects? Should it still be regarded despite the moral ethics of research be breached? I would love to hear from you guys!