Emotions are contagious, so make sure you choose your company carefully. We can usually tell someone’s mood by their facial expressions, body language and tone, but what about how that person’s mood affects us? How can we guard against negativity through osmosis?
Like the common cold, good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from those around you and they can spread throughout a social circle with relative ease. The more friends in your circle who are negative or in a perpetual state of anxiety, the more likely it will ‘contaminate’ others within that circle. Similarly, good moods spread too — the more people that exhibit feelings of happiness, the more likely it will rub off on other members of your social circle.
New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, but depression can’t.
A team led by the University of Warwick has examined whether friends’ moods can affect an individual therefore implying that moods may spread across friendship networks.
The team analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools. Their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team’s findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However they also found that they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.
Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. They found the opposite applied to adolescents who had a more positive social circle.
Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre led the study. He said: “We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness and sleep) spreading through US adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time. Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.”
Now obviously, if a person is happy and positive, having that rub off on us is a pretty good thing. So it would appear to be simple — just surround yourself with happy, positive, energetic people, right? Maybe not. Some experts say that negative moods/emotions are a lot easier to catch than the positive ones.
So what does one do?
It really depends on each person’s individual circumstances, but becoming acutely aware that we all have a natural instinct to absorb and mimic the emotional state of other’s is key — by being conscious that this is a risk will help you build up your defenses against the contamination. Obviously, we should never lose our compassion or empathy, or shun a negative person, but we can be empathetic and supportive, without letting another person’s negative emotions directly affect our own state of mind.
The other “moral of the story” is, perpetuating happiness and positivity is always a good thing, so that’s why we should choose our company carefully and make sure we spread positivity when ever we can.