“Emotional Contagion” in the Workplace through Social Observation, Social Media

Many people have observed that emotions can be “contagious” between individuals, and can affect work group dynamics.

Douglas Pugh

Douglas Pugh

Emotional contagion is characterized by replicating and matching emotions displayed by others, and differs from empathy, which enables understanding another’s emotional experience without actually experiencing it, according to Virginia Commonwealth University’s S. Douglas Pugh.

Adam D I Kramer

Adam D I Kramer

In addition to direct interpersonal contact, “viral emotions” can be transmitted through social media platforms without observing nonverbal cues, according to Facebook’s Adam D. I. Kramer, Jamie E. Guillory of University of California, San Francisco and Cornell University’s Jeffrey T. Hancock, suggesting further impact of social media on workplace interpersonal relations and productivity.

Jeffrey Hancock

Jeffrey Hancock

They found that when positive emotional expressions in Facebook News Feeds were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts.
In contrast, when negative emotional expressions were reduced, the people reduced negative posts, indicating that people’s emotional expressions on a massive social media platform like Facebook influences others’ emotions and behaviors.

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade

Much empirical evidence shows that people in task performance situations are influenced by observing others’ emotions.
One example is performance in a decision-making task changed after people observed a trained confederate enacting mood conditions, according to Wharton’s Sigal Barsade.
When participants observed positive emotions, they were more likely to cooperate and perform better on group decision-making tasks.

People who tend to be more influenced by others’ emotions on R. William Doherty’s Emotional Contagion Scale also reported greater:

  • Reactivity
  • Emotionality
  • Sensitivity to others
  • Social functioning
  • Self-esteem
  • Emotional empathy

They also reported lower:

  • Alienation
  • Self-assertiveness
  • Emotional stability
Stanley Schachter

Stanley Schachter

Likelihood of being influenced by others emotions increases when individuals feel threated, which increases affiliation with others, according to Stanley Schachter‘s emotional similarity hypothesis.

Brooks B Gump

Brooks B Gump

This link between mimicking others’ emotions and perceived threat increases when people believe that others are also threatened, found Syracuse University’s Brooks B. Gump and James A. Kulik of University of California, San Diego.

Elaine Hatfield

Elaine Hatfield

Women in diverse roles (physicians, Marines, and students) reported greater emotional contagion of both positive and negative emotions on Doherty’s Emotional Contagion Scale.
Observers also rated these women as experiencing greater emotional contagion than men in research by Doherty with University of Hawaii colleagues Lisa Orimoto, Elaine Hatfield, Janine Hebb, and Theodore M. Singelis of California State University-Chico.

James Laird

James Laird

Further, people who are more likely to “catch” emotions from other are also more likely to actually feel emotions associated with facial expressions they adopt, reported Clark University’s James D. Laird, Tammy Alibozak, Dava Davainis, Katherine Deignan, Katherine Fontanella, Jennifer Hong, Brett Levy, and Christine Pacheco.
This finding suggests that those with greater susceptibility to emotional contagion are convincing actors – to themselves, and maybe others.

Christopher K. Hsee

Christopher K. Hsee

Contrary to expectation, people with greater power tend to pay more attention to and adopt emotions of people with less power, found University of Hawaii’s Christopher K. Hsee, Hatfield, and John G. Carlson with Claude Chemtob of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Participants adopted the role of “teacher” or “learner” to simulate role-based power differential, then were videotaped as they observed a videotape of a fictitious participant discussing an emotional experience.
Volunteers described emotions they experienced as they watched the confederate describe a “happiest” and “saddest” life event.
This finding indicates that leaders are more attuned to followers’ emotions than previously anticipated.

The service industry capitalizes on emotional contagion by training staff members to model positive emotions based on the assumption that positive emotions increase customer satisfaction and continued business.

James Kulik

James Kulik

In fact, customers were more influence by  service quality than employees’ positive emotion in determining customers’ satisfaction, according to Bowling Green State’s Patricia B. Barger and Alicia A. Grandey of Pennsylvania State University.

Positive emotional contagion has been used to advantage in sales, services, and health care settings, and can positively or negatively resonate through work organizations with impact on employee attitude, morale, engagement, and even customer service, safety, and innovation.

-*How do you intentionally model and convey emotions to individuals and group members?
-*What strategies do you use to manage susceptibility to “emotional contagion”?

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