Some say that negative emotions are more contagious than positive ones. And why not? From an evolutionary perspective, being sensitive to others’ negative emotions like pain, fear and disgust would have made us more likely to survive.
Negativity is Highly Contagious
Imagine you’re spending time with a friend who’s going through a hard time. Perhaps they’re using negative words like “sad” or “depressed” more than usual. And more than likely when they use these words, you feel compelled to respond with a similar vocabulary, altering your mood. This is what’s known as a linguistic environment.
How we perceive words subconsciously seeds ideas and responses, meaning that if someone uses negative vocabulary, we’re more likely to think and respond negatively too. To empathise with someone, our mood changes, and by extension our mindset as well. And this is why it can sometimes feel exhausting to help out a friend going through a hard time.
But it’s not only words that affect us. When speaking to someone, we’ll often mirror their facial expressions. And when we do this, our brains begin to interpret these expressions as our feelings too. For example, when a friend is telling you about something they’re worried about, it would be insensitive to give them a toothy grin the whole way through. So instead, you’ll look concerned. Then by looking concerned, you’ll become concerned.
And this behaviour has been widely documented. Studies have shown that when one spouse is depressed, often their partner will be too. The same is true among roommates, with children raised by depressed parents also much more likely to suffer from depression.
The Positive Side
Happily though, it all works for positivity too. Although it may be harder to catch than negativity, positivity is still contagious. And when we catch positive emotions from linguistic environments and facial expressions, we’re more likely to be viewed by others and ourselves as more competent and better at working with others.
Imagine you can choose to be a part of one of two sports teams. One is lively and upbeat and the other is quiet and withdrawn. The first team celebrates each player’s success and excuses each player’s mistake, whereas the second team shrugs off each player’s success and complains over each mistake. Let’s be honest. You’d probably feel happier joining the first team where you’d feel both appreciated for your personal abilities and your skills working with others.
To conclude, both negative and positive emotions are contagious. And so, to best improve our mindsets, it’s beneficial to cut out negative people where possible. This of course doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help people we care about and those in need. But it does mean that we should understand our personal limits which may vary over time, before their problems become ours too.