Our Moods Are Contagious

By Chris Chittenden

“An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy.”

… Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 - 1882) US philosopher, poet, essayist

Do you ever feel sad then find yourself in a group of happy joyous people and feel uplifted? Or maybe the opposite has happened to you, where you are feeling great and get dragged down by others who appear frustrated and angry. Research over a number of years has shown that we can catch the moods and emotions of those around. It is very likely that if you hang around with optimistic and constructive people then you will generally find yourself in a similar frame of mind. And similarly, the reverse is also valid. In the ongoing presence of pessimistic and unenthusiastic people, you are likely to find yourself feeling the same way. Studies have also shown that certain emotions, most notably, excitement, happiness, sadness, and anger seem to be more contagious than others. These studies have also found that we are more likely to catch the moods and emotions of those close to us or with whom we spend a lot of time. It would seem that there is a great deal of connectedness between our own emotional states and those with whom we spend a lot of time.

It is easy to look at this research and focus on the people with whom we spend time and look at the impact of their moods on us. We would like to consider this from a different perspective. Other research in this area has shown that within a short period of engaging in a conversation with another person, the two people involved will find themselves in similar physical states. Breathing patterns will be similar, body postures will synchronised in some way and emotional states will match. As we have seen in previous articles, our emotional state is a predisposition for our actions, including our way of thinking about a given situation.

One of the key aspects of coaching or leading others is to generate an emotional state that is conducive to moving towards our desired outcomes. Hence, given that emotional states are contagious in some way, it follows that if you can catch other people’s moods, they can also catch yours. Simply put, in any conversation, you can greatly influence the emotional state of that conversation by managing your emotional space. If you can stay calm in the face of another’s frustration or anger, then soon enough they will most likely calm down. If you feel excited about the possibilities you see, others may well become excited too. Conversely, your frustration can easily become another’s frustration and so on.

We have spoken before about how we can control ourselves through awareness and choice. Our emotional state is one example, where we can learn to manage our emotional state more effectively through self-awareness of our moods and emotions and developing strategies and habits that will allow us to greatly influence the conversations we have and, as a result, the outcomes we achieve.

More articles on Being Human
More articles on Relationships & Communication

© 2007 Chris Chittenden