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What You May Be Unconsciously Spreading to Others

Research shows how highly contagious emotions can be.

Have you ever been in a situation where you're feeling pretty good and then you suddenly interact with a friend or family member in a foul mood?

You realize that you are no longer feeling pretty good, but instead begin picking up their negative energy. In fact, you slowly start feeling pretty lousy yourself, and before you know it may even be experiencing a downward spiral of emotions.

Negative emotions are contagious.
Source: Pexels

If you're anything like us, you've experienced this many times, whether it's with your spouse, friends, or even strangers. The reason, as we explained in our previous post, is because negative emotions are contagious. Like the common cold, they can be quickly passed on to others.

We have a responsibility to stop spreading our germs, be they physical or emotional, to others. Germs have a natural way of spreading all by themselves, like wildfires, and don't need any help from us. A plethora of unhelpful negative emotions like fear, anxiety, and anger are swirling around at rapid speeds during this unsettling time.

The good news is that these aren't the only emotions swirling around in the world. Have you noticed how much bravery, joy, and kindness there is as well right now? And what's more, these emotions are also contagious.

Now imagine the following. You're not feeling that great. Suddenly, your spouse walks into the room in a great mood. He is grinning from ear to ear and it is clear that his cup runneth over. He has just finished teaching another graduate class and is moved by his students' insights and engagement. His joy is palpable. You can't but help feeling his happiness. His joy is literally infectious. After interacting with him for a while, you begin to catch his emotions and start feeling better yourself.

Positive emotions are infectious.
Source: Pexels

This phenomenon isn't just anecdotal. There's research to support it, as well the fact that positive emotions don't just affect our emotional states but can also have an impact on our behavior and performance too.

One such study demonstrating this effect was conducted by Sigal Barsade, currently at the Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania. She and her colleagues brought 92 college undergraduates into a lab and randomly assigned them to twenty-nine groups of two to four students each to simulate a managerial exercise.

In some groups, Barsade included an actor trained to display a positive mood and in others an actor trained to display a negative mood.

Before beginning the exercise, participants completed a questionnaire to gauge their mood. Each participant, including the actor, then gave a presentation. Afterwards, participants completed another mood questionnaire. Additionally, researchers also rated their facial expressions, verbal tone, and body language.

Sure enough, participants' moods were positively or negatively impacted depending on what type of actor was in their group. And this effect wasn't just in the moment. It impacted their future moods and performance as well. Those groups with the actor exhibiting a positive mood, exuded more positivity over time, experienced greater cooperation, increased perceived performance, and less conflict as compared to those in the negative-contagion group.

So we can see how contagious our moods are.

What are we spreading? Is it fear, anxiety, and anger? Or are we conductors of bravery, love, and kindness?

Source: Pexels
Are we conductors of bravery, love, and kindness?
Source: Pexels

Let's be mindful of what we are feeling and spreading to others. By practicing positivity we can infect others with compassion, love, and joy, at a time in the world when we can all use an extra boost of optimism.


Barsade, S. G. (2002). The ripple effect: Emotional contagion and its influence on group behavior. Administrative Science Quarterly 47(4), 644-675.

Pileggi Pawelski, S & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.

More from Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James Pawelski, Ph.D.
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