It's a common experience for family members or groups of friends: One person's mood can bring the whole group's energy down … or up.
In 1962, the reality television show Candid Camera offered a remarkable glimpse into a psychological phenomenon that helps explain how emotions spread. They made it through a now famous comedy stunt called "Face the Rear."
It goes like this: we see an unsuspecting man walk into an elevator that has been secretly rigged with cameras. Two more people walk in after him. But weirdly, they turn towards the back wall of the elevator. The man looks confused, but continues facing the front, despite the two weirdos next to him. But when a third person comes in and faces the back wall, the poor guy can not take it anymore and turns to the back wall too.
Now the dance is on. The three newcomers now turn forward and the target of the prank whips around to join them. Candid Camera observes this phenomenon again and again. An unsuspecting victim would walk into that elevator and end up imitating whatever people around him were doing.
Now, the man's initial gradual turn to face the back wall with the others is something that psychologists refer to as conformity, when you slowly and consciously decide to follow the group.
But sometimes the victim in the prank begins with what people do so automatically that it goes by another name: contagion. Eventually, the man in the Candid Camera video started moving in perfect sync with the people around him so that it almost looked choreographed.
"When we watch other people, for some reason, we're wired up to get in sync with them on so many things that kind of boggles your mind … And they calculate that it's so fast that you couldn ' "Elaine Hatfield, a psychological researcher from the University of Hawaii, said," It's a good idea to do it. " She and her husband, Dick Rapson, have spent a good part of their careers looking at this phenomenon.
Some of the ways we sync with the people around us are more obvious – how we imitate people's postures and speaking patterns. But others are quiet. Like, how if you're talking to a friend, over time you may begin to blink in time with one another. Or if you watch someone stutter, the tiny muscles on your mouth can start to twitch. And when you're sitting around a conference table in a meeting? People often begin to imitate each other's breathing patterns as well, with everyone breathing as one.
"It's so wired in, and in the primitive parts of the brain, that animals do it, even little birds imitate one another, it just happens to be breathing," says Hatfield.
But it's not just each other's physical movements we mimic, but emotions, too. And this is Rapson and Hatfield's real specialty – emotional contagion.
They first became aware of the idea of emotional contagion while working as therapists. They had a client who came in and was very animated, talking very quickly and energetically. But they both found themselves starting to yawn, despite the fact that neither of them felt tired. So, why were they yawning?
"What we thought was going on was that we were picking up, underneath her cascade of words, depression," says Rapson. That was their idea – that the depression was somehow being telegraphed to them nonverbally. So, they looked into it and found out that, indeed, emotions leak out of the person's face in these very measurable, consistent ways called microexpressions
Microexpressions are fleeting, involuntary expressions of feelings that last a fraction of a second. Anger Can Be Contagious “/>