Emotional contagion refers to shared behaviors or emotional states between individuals. This can be seen in primates as well as non primate organisms. This is believed to be facilitated by mirror neurons. When one organism observes an experience in another (such as grasping an object), the observer can have some of the same neurons firing in their brain as if they were doing the experience themselves. The prefrontal cortex is especially involved in this process and emotional experiences overall. Some real life examples of emotional contagion can be the classic contagious yawn. It is observed even in very small children, even when they are so young that they are non-verbal, if they observe older individuals laughing about a joke, the child/baby can start laughing and experience the same emotion even though they are not cognitively process what exactly was so funny.
Emotional contagion has an important role in empathy. It allows us to well…empathize with each other. This is crucial for building of and strengthening relationships. Many societal functions thrive on this including for our personal quality of life and in the workplace for team building. And most obviously, it’s a critical skill in the job description of psychiatrists, psychologist, and psychotherapists. The ability to have some understanding of another’s experience is incredibly validating and therapeutic in and of itself. But can also help the person expressing empathy be helpful to that individual in other ways such as problem solving. Likewise, spreading positive emotions and behaviors in the work place can be contagious and foster a healthy work environment. Whereas a negative emotional environment with complaints and antagonism in a workplace can be a recipe for toxicity and breed further negativity. Emotional contagion has a lot of potential to be utilized as a tool to promote very good deeds. It is also possible to breed negativity and unhealthy behaviors as well, especially if it become an accepted norm of experiencing and reacting.