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Emotional Contagion

What is Emotional Contagion?

Introduction Of Emotional Contagion
Introduction Of Emotional Contagion

Elaine Hatfield was the first to study emotional contagion. It’s the ability for people to feel what another person feels and do the same things. For instance, people are more inclined to grin and feel cheerful when someone smiles joyfully in their presence.

Facial expressions, verbal tones, and posture may all transmit emotional contagion. Emotional contagion happens when people and animals interact.

Verbeke divides people into groups based on their propensity to “catch” and transmit emotions, since not everyone is similarly impacted by emotional contagion.

Technology firms and advertisers have long used emotional contagion to make consumers feel good about their products. Some detractors have mocked this as “emotional engineering,” in which companies use psychological manipulation to change people’s feelings or behaviors.

Defined and Historical

When others watch one person’s behavior, it can cause them to act the same way, known as emotional contagion. Then, these “copiers” experience the same feelings as the individual who changed the original conduct (Panksepp and Lahvis, 2011).

Facial expressions, voices, posture, motions, and other instrumental behaviors may all be used to communicate behavior from one person to another.

Facial expressions may convey a wide range of emotions, from acceptance to expectations and feelings (Brown, 2004). The ability to recognize emotions based on facial expressions is common throughout cultures.

Face expressions therefore have a significant social and psychological function in interpersonal communication. Watching facial expressions makes people feel the same emotions the original expression was showing. This phenomenon is known as emotional contagion (Hess, and Blairy, 2001; Lundqvist, 1995).

This mimicking, according to researchers like Barger and Grandey (2006), is an attempt to “associate or sympathise with others.” Adam Smith and other economists noted in 1759 that humans exhibit “motor mimicry” and put themselves in other people’s shoes (Hatfield, 1993).

In fact, philosophers of emotions like Theodor Lipps claimed that motor imitation of others’ emotional gestures was the root of empathy.

The theory of emotional contagion The emotional contagion concept was initially put out by Elaine Hatfield in 1993, who characterized it as “the tendency to reflexively replicate and synchronise one’s emotions, vocalisations, postures, and movements with those of another person, and, subsequently, to converge emotionally.”  Emotional contagion is the process by which an emotion is transmitted from one person to another, causing a similar emotional response in the receiver.

Adam Smith suggested catching emotions by conscious thinking, analysis, and imagination.

In her 1993 paper, Hatfield makes a lot of claims on the reasons behind emotional contagion; however she believes more recent research has suggested. She identifies two key mechanisms: positive feedback and imitation. They are more “subtle, automatic, and widespread than previous theorists have suggested.” Hatfield identifies two key mechanisms: positive feedback and imitation.

Emotional contagion’s sources

According to Hatfield (1993), people routinely and unconsciously imitate the vocal tones, postures, motions, and instrumental actions of others.

Hatfield draws on the work of pioneering social psychophysiologists who discovered that facial mimicry can occur almost instantaneously. Changes in people’s emotional expressions are usually shown in their facial expressions.

Electromyography measures this.

According to one research, college students can coordinate their facial motions in about 21 milliseconds (Hatfield, 1993). Ulf Dimberg of the University of Uppsala watched students’ facial electromyography while they watched people with happy and angry expressions.

When people see happy or angry faces, their cheek and brow muscles work harder, respectively. Mimicry transcends age barriers.

Early on after birth, newborns replicate their parents’ facial expressions, according to earlier studies. Hatfield noted that this mimicking tendency extends beyond only facial expressions.

For instance, conversational partners who judge their talks favorably have comparable speaking lengths, speech rates, and reaction latencies. Similar actions have been seen in general body motions and posture (Hatfield, 1993).

Emotional Contagion and Facial Feedback

Hatfield (1993) also suggests that mimicking facial, verbal, postural, and movement features might influence a person’s subjective emotional experience.

They did this by referencing Charles Darwin, who believed that face muscle feedback should influence emotional experiences. Recent literature that showed how facial feedback may increase or undermine emotions impacted her.

Hatfield points out that three techniques were utilized by the researchers to elicit emotive facial expressions from the individuals. First, researchers may instruct participants to exaggerate or hide emotions; arrange the environment to encourage emotional imitation. ; or trick people into adopting expressions (Hatfield, 1993).

Researchers have discovered that participants’ emotional experiences tend to be influenced by their facial expressions, regardless of the technique used to elicit such expressions.

The experimenter had participants’ faces fitted with sensors on the corners of their jaws, between their eyebrows, and on their lips. These electrodes could change subjects’ facial expressions. Laird discovered that participants’ perceptions of their own emotions changed because of the molding of facial expressions.

For instance, those whose features were stuck in a frown felt less cheerful than people whose faces were fixed in a grin (Laird, 1992).

In another experiment, Ekman, et al. asked participants to show six different emotions: surprise, disgust, sorrow, anger, and fear. They could do this by remembering an emotional event or by moving their facial muscles to imitate the expression.

The autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions like heart rate and blood pressure, was checked.

The researchers discovered that stretching face muscles and remembering emotional events both caused responses in the autonomic nervous system that were comparable to really experiencing such feelings (Ekman et. al., 1983). Overall, these studies demonstrated that people are likely to experience the emotion represented by their facial expression.

Verbal and physical feedback are both forms of emotional contagion. Intonation can be influenced by a person’s feelings. Scherer (2003), for instance, claims that joyful individuals make sounds with little amplitude fluctuation, plenty of pitch change, a quick tempo, a crisp sound envelope, and few harmonics.

Based on this communication research, a study by Hatfield et al. (1993) revealed that participants’ emotions were affected when asked to recreate sound patterns with characteristics of joy, love, wrath, fear, or sadness.

The Spread of Emotional Contagion

Some people are more prone than others to “catching” or transferring emotions (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016). These individuals are divided into two categories by Verbeke (1997): “strong transmitters of emotions” and “may be powerful catchers of emotions.”

Verbeke divided people into four groups based on their personality traits: charismatics, empathetics, brands, and explanators. Verrbeke asserts that charismatic people are adept in infecting and catching emotions.

However, empathic people are less prone to spread their feelings to others. Expanders easily spread disease to others but are unlikely to do so with emotions (this may be evidenced, for example, by their insensitive behaviors).

While Blands are less prone to get or spread emotional diseases (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016). Whether an emotion is congruent or inconsistent with an action can affect how easily it can be transmitted.

According to Aylward (2008), participants will experience emotions more gradually and less strongly when they witness an emotion that is inconsistent with a person’s conduct (such as a cashier who doesn’t smile at a client).

Examples of emotional Contagion

Digital Technology and Emotional Contagion

Recently, businesses and academics have created studies that mimic internet emotional contagion. These scholars are particularly curious with the issues of how people communicate their emotions online and how people “catch” others’ emotions through the gloss of social media and other digital communications (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

According to academics, technology itself as well as relationships it mediates might cause emotional contagion (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

Both good and bad outcomes are possible from this. Customers may become irritated with automated contact centre software that is unable to pick up on subtle changes in speech, for instance.

Additionally, there are a number of restrictions on the transmission of emotional contagion online. For instance, video conferencing might make personal identification less important and provide few possibilities to imitate body language and quick emotional responses (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

Marketing and Contagious Emotions

Practically speaking, it has become a “commercial necessity” to create positive emotional contagion (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016). For instance, some marketers have employed “smile-scanning software” in Japanese stores to examine smiles, eye movements, lip curvature, and face wrinkles.

These findings have been utilised to educate staff members to smile more sincerely. Those who participate in such training report significant increases in client satisfaction (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016). These programmes are categorised as “emotional engineering.”

Positive or negative emotions can be adapted by advertisers to fit particular activities, audiences, or time frames. Emotion research has historically been used by the advertising business over the past few decades to craft memorable stories and foster good brand connections (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

Companies like Facebook, who financed a research to confirm the impact that changing the emotional tone of messages from friends had on Facebook users, have drawn attention to and criticism over this “emotional engineering” (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

In the meanwhile, several businesses have tried to combine technology with emotional contagion. In one such Coca-Cola marketing strategy, the corporation developed two ads with the goal of inspiring people to feel happy and to associate such feelings with Coca-Cola brands.

For instance, when Coca-Cola was dispensed, customers in the southern region of Brazil who purchased the beverage heard the company’s anthem “happy everywhere.”

In Singapore, the machine wouldn’t start dispensing bottles until someone “hugged” it. According to reports, many who watched these activities “got” the feelings they were meant to convey (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

Emotional contagion and movies

Both face-to-face contact and media can spread emotional contagion.

For instance, several studies have shown that watching happy movies causes people to display so-called Dunchenne grins (emotional smiles with generally wrinkled eyes) (Giuliana and Carvalho, 2016).

Ekman is a research that illustrates this effect (1993). Positive emotions are not the only ones that may spread through video.

Those who viewed videotapes of persons narrating the happiest or saddest experiences of their life tended to feel happier or sadder, respectively (Bavelas et al. 1986), while those who observed others expressing disgust tended to mimic a disgusted facial expression (Hsee, Hatfield, Carlson, and Chemtob, 1990).

Visual vs. Auditory Stimuli for Emotional Contagion

People can become infected with emotional contagion through both primarily aural and strictly visual ways. The ability of music to evoke powerful emotions is one of the most frequently stated benefits of listening to music (Juslin and Laukka, 2004).

Since theories held that emotions developed so that people could deal with conditions important to either reproduction or survival, researchers have historically ignored investigations of how music affects emotions (Cosmides and Tooby, 2000; Darwin, 1872).

So, according to academics, music cannot elicit conventional feelings such as happiness or sadness since it has no inherent worth for living (Kivy, 1990; Scherer, 2003). To support this occurrence, Lundqvist, Carlson, Hilmerson, and Juslin (2009) sought empirical data. They discovered that music can affect the experiencing, expressive, and physiological elements of the emotional response system.

In order to quantify self-reported mood, facial muscle activity, and autonomic nervous system activity, 32 participants listened to popular music with either a joyful or sad emotional expression.

The researchers hypothesised that those who listened to cheerful music would feel more self-rated happiness, less self-rated despair, more activity in the mouth-upturning muscles, a faster heart rate, more skin conductance, and a higher finger temperature.

In line with other study, the researchers also anticipated that women would exhibit more prominent reactions to music than males (Lundqvist et. al, 2009).

According to the researchers’ predictions, joyful music causes people to smile more, have more skin conductance, feel happier, and feel less depressed than sad music.

This lends credence to the concept that participants’ listening to music caused them to develop emotional congruence. Additionally, only visual cues can cause emotional contagion. Lang (1995) asserts that images can elicit startle reflexes as well as the impact connected to a particular response.

Lang assembled a sizable collection of emotionally charged images for this study and made an effort to gauge participants’ responses in response to these images. Lang specifically employed an acoustic probe to assess the startle response’s blinking component since being startled is known to cause fast blinking.

The study discovered that individuals who saw “shocking” images displayed a startle reaction, whereas those who saw pleasant images shown indications of limiting the startle response.

In general, the mimicking is more powerful the more provocative the picture. This supported the results of earlier animal experiments.

How to cite this content:

  1. Nickerson (2021, Nov 08). Simply Psychology, “Emotional Contagion,” www.simplypsychology.org/what-is-emotional-contagion.html


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Greetings, I am Dr. Ashutosh Tripathi, a psychologist with extensive expertise in criminal behavior and its impact on psychological well-being. I hold a Master of Physics (Honors), a Master of Philosophy, a Master of Psychology, and a PhD in Psychology from BHU in India.Over the past 13 years, I have been privileged to serve more than 3200 patients with unique and varied psychological needs. My clinical work is guided by a deep passion for helping individuals navigate complex psychological issues and live more fulfilling lives.As a recognized contributor to the field of psychology, my articles have been published in esteemed Indian news forums, such as The Hindu, The Times of India, and Punjab Kesari. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been honored by the Government of Israel for my contributions to the Psychological Assistance Program.I remain committed to advancing our understanding of psychology and its applications through my ongoing research, which can be found on leading online libraries such as Science Direct, Wiley, Elsevier, Orcid, Google Scholar, and loop Frontiers. I am also an active contributor to Quora, where I share my insights on various psychological issues.Overall, I see myself as a lifelong student of psychology, constantly learning and growing from my patients, colleagues, and peers. I consider it a great privilege to have the opportunity to serve others in this field and to contribute to our collective understanding of the human mind and behavior.