Friday, December 19, 2008

Smile, and the world smiles with you....

Emotion is contagious. In a way, this is perfectly intuitive. All of us have had our spirits picked up by being around somebody in a good mood. If you think about this closely, though, it's quite a radical notion. We normally think of the expressions on our face as a reflecion of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside-out. Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in.

Malcolm Gladwell, discussing the theory Emotional Contagion put forth in a book of the same name by Elaine Hatfield and John Cacioppo in The Tipping Point.

More from another study, this time based on Howard Friedman's charisma test.

He then put all of the high scorers in separate rooms, and paired each of them with two low-scorers. They were told to sit in the room together for two minutes. They could look at each other, but not talk. Then, once the session was over, they were again asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire on how they were feeling. Friedman found that in just two minutes, without a word being spoken, the low scorers ended up picking up the moods of the high scorers. If the charismatic person started out depressed, and the inexpressive person started out happy, by the end of the two minutes the inexpressive person was depressed as well. But it didn't work the other way. Only the charismatic person could infect the other people in the room with his or her emotions.

It's too bad I have to send this book back to the library.

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