We know I am not a fan of emotion in business… I found this today and thought it was interesting… I was asking myself… why is it that negative posts, blogs, people seem to attract more of the same.  I really think that if I were to get nasty the blog traffic would increase.  Why is that I wondered?  So I decided to search a little..  Can we not help ourselves… do we all just love a train wreck?  I dunno… but I did find this interesting…

For the FULL article and all credit, please see:  http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/04/angrynegative_p.html  

Emotional Contagion

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

If you were around one or more people with a potentially harmful contagious disease, you would probably take steps to protect yourself in some way. And if you were the contagious one, you’d likely take steps to protect others until you were sure the chance of infecting someone else was gone.

But while we all have a lot of respect for physical biological contagions, we do NOT have much respect for physical emotional contagions. (I said “physical”, because science has known for quite some time that “emotions” are not simply a fuzzy-feeling concept, but represent physical changes in the brain.)

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measels or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:
“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

So, Robert’s choice makes sense if he is concerned about the damaging effects of emotional contagion. But… that still leaves one big issue: is “catching” only positive emotions a Good Thing? Does this mean surrounding ourselves with “fake” goodness and avoiding the truth? Does surrounding ourselves with “happy people” mean we shut down critical thinking skills?

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