Emotional Contagion

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about impulse control and real time resilience. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

We learned that impulse control is closely related to emotional regulation. The difference is that impulse control refers to our ability to moderate external behaviors while emotional regulation is an internal process (1). Remember those kids who faced the marshmallow test? Impulse control is associated with long-term positive outcomes and impacts both our personal resilience and the quality of our relationships (1). 

Good news! Just like the other skills of resilience we’ve explored, impulse control can be developed (1). So last week, we continued our journey towards resilience. I invited you to get creative with how you get calm and build your real time resilience in order to support your impulse control. 

I hope you tried one of my suggestions or a personal idea that helped you calm your body and focus your mind during a moment of adversity. What types of real time resilience work for you? How did it feel in your body? Did you notice a shift? When emotional regulation and impulse control work together, we can keep the proverbial foot out of our mouths, control knee jerk reactions in a difficult moments, and improve our relationships (1).

Have you ever noticed how contagious yawning and laugher seem to be? As social creatures, our emotions and behaviors impact others. In fact, they may impact others even more than you realize! Research supports that our emotions are contagious within three degrees of separation (2). That’s right. Three degrees of separation. So, your mother’s, dog walker’s, boyfriend even has the potential to be indirectly impacted by your emotions!

That’s quite a ripple effect!

As you may notice from the picture, the ripples get smaller as they move away from the center. This is true of our emotions as well. Our impact decreases with each degree of separation. How does the ripple effect work? Well, the phenomenon of emotional contagion exists not only because we are drawn to people who are similar to us, but also because we are literally wired to mirror others through mimicry (2). 

In this same way, your personal network can impact your well-being. Happiness spreads through social networks (2), and so do the behaviors of folks around. Did you know that if those around you are obese, you are more likely to be as well? The same goes for smoking (2). While emotional contagion is relatively brief, the impact of behaviors from those around you can have a more lasting impact. 

What’s your ripple effect? 

Different emotions impact us differently. Did you know that positive emotions are generative? They broaden our focus and build our resources (3). I mean this quite literally. They widen the span of possibilities you see and bring out your best. There is even evidence to support that positive emotions increase peripheral vision (3)! This means that positive emotions are not just indicators of well-being, but causes of it. 

Negative emotions, on the other hand, narrow our focus. They are a way of funneling energy and attention towards a particular problem (3). This can be adaptive in moments, but negative emotions do not promote creativity or generate ideas. So they are not typically helpful when we we are ready to move forward from a moment of adversity. In fact, negative emotions can create a downward spiral and impact those around us just a powerfully as positive emotions. 

Check this out!

How can this help us build resilience? 

We have seen that different emotions have different purposes and know that the goal of resilience is to be emotional agile with all emotional states and realistically optimistic, so that we can positively adapt in moments of adversity (1,4,5). 

The number one road block to cultivating resilience is the way we look at and interpret the world around us (1). This makes sense. In past weeks, we've discovered the power of our beliefs and realistic optimism (1,4,5) Negative emotions are typically an accurate and appropriate response in a moment of adversity, but now we understand that they also make it easy to get stuck in a particular mindset. Anxiety, sadness, and anger narrow the mind and make it difficult to reach beyond the captivity of negative emotions to engage alternative experiences or perspectives. 

Actively cultivating positive emotions can help us stop the downward spiral. This is why getting calm and focusing the mind with real time resilience is so powerful! Combine that with the fact that positive emotions can create an upward spiral and ripple through our relationships and you have quite a powerful tool for cultivating resilience (1). 

This week, I invite you to notice how different emotions impact not only you, but also those around you. If you find yourself on a downward spiral, create a stop gap with real time resilience and cultivate a positive emotion. Start small. Perhaps by noticing something you are grateful for, looking at a cute puppy online, or sharing a laugh. Maybe you just need a distraction for a few minutes. Remember, you can shift your emotional state to get on the path to resilience.

I look forward to seeing you again next week as we continue our journey to resilience. Until then, I hope you enjoy your week!

Gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.


1. Reivich, K, Shatté, A. The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. Random House Digital, Inc; 2003.

2. Fowler, J, Christakis, N.  Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal. 2008; 337, a2338.

3. Fredrickson, B. Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York: Crown Publishers; 2009.

4. Schneider, S. In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist. 2001; 56(3), 250.

5. Seligman, M. Learned optimism. New York: Knopf; 1991.