Its long been known that we are social animals who influence one another. When someone smiles at us, most people smile back. When a baby laughs, we laugh.
Researchers have recently discovered that we “catch” emotions more than we realized. The fancy term for it is called “emotional contagion,” which means that humans synchronize their emotions with the emotions conveyed by another person. One person’s emotions become “contagious” to others.
We just returned from the Conscious Capitalism conference in Dallas, Texas and the opening keynote speaker was Shawn Anchor, a Harvard educated researcher who studies emotions. He reinforced the idea that emotions are contagious with this statement: “Our brains are wirelessly connected, which means we co-process the world. We do not individually process the world.”
We co-process and co-create. It is therefore essential to understand the idea that emotions are contagious; both the emotions you receive from others as well as the emotions you “put out.”
The phenomime of contagious emotions involve all types of emotions, from happy to angry, although negative emotions top positive ones. Negative emotions are stronger because your brain is wired to keep you safe, so it is hyper-sensitive to negative emotions.
When people know one another well, the contagious and emotional rippling effect can happen in a nanosecond. It starts with a facial expression or tone of voice, posture or gesture. Very likely, as you “catch” the emotion emanating from the other, you will adjust your emotions accordingly.
We work closely together as a husband and wife team. The emotional state of one of us frequently affects the emotions of the other. Sometimes we are conscious of this and other times we are unconscious to the impact we have on each other. Here’s a simple example of how it works:
Since both of us are recovering Rescuers and are learning to escape the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™, we still can default to the Rescuing role and want to save each other from negative emotions. If Donna “catches” and interprets David’s emotion (even though the issue from the phone call may have been a minor one) and he then “catches” her concern. The situation can become magnified and can even escalate into a DDT interaction.
Scientists are finding that this co-processing is neurologically complex. As a result, one person may feel they are living the emotional lives of other people. This is fertile ground for the DDT and its mental drama cycles.
The idea of contagious emotions requires that you become highly conscious of your own moment-to-moment emotions and of those around you. However, many people seem oblivious to how emotions are contagious and how swiftly they “catch” the expressions and emotions of others. And, you also may not be aware when you contaminate the environment with less-than-positive emotions.
Many organizations and workplaces encourage teamwork. The emotions of fellow team members, especially the team leader, can greatly impact the emotions of the team members. The idea of contagious emotions explains why this happens.
Are you “casting out” positive emotions that nurture a co-creating and creative work environment? Or are you contributing to and perpetuating drama by seeding the environment with negative or fear-based emotions? How about in your family environment?
Living beyond the emotional reactivity and drama of the DDT and moving into TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® calls you to become more aware of how emotions affect you and others. It also challenges you to become personally accountable to manage your own emotions, in order to avoid triggering or negatively impact others.
As David’s dad used to say, “Courtesy is contagious.” The positive and negative emotions that our behaviors generate is how we “co-process” our experiences and relationships.