Emotions Are Contagious

Summary: “Feel the way you want your counterparty to feel.” 

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise walked into a room full of women and told Renée Zellweger, “You complete me.” As I watched that scene I rolled my eyes and thought…pleeeease…give me a break!! However, as much as I dislike admitting it, there is some scientific support for Cruise’s eye-roll-inducing dialogue.

As it turns out, most of us are capable of “tuning in” to the internal emotional state of others. As a matter of fact, in some cases when you are interacting with another person, your two nervous systems, in effect, become as one (hence, Renée completes Tom…in the movie).

Even without considering the science, most of you intuitively know that feelings are contagious if you have ever watched a comedian or performer absolutely bombing on stage. How do you feel when that happens? Does your nervous system usually “tune in” to their discomfort? Or on a positive note, how about when this song became contagious in My Best Friend’s Wedding? Or watch this short TED video.

Take a look at a very interesting book called A General Theory of Love by Lewis, Amini and Lannon if you are interested in the science behind this contagious emotions phenomenon called limbic resonance and limbic regulation. Here’s an interesting passage from the book: “But because human physiology is (at least in part) an open-loop arrangement, an individual does not direct all of his own functions. A second person transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and more – inside the body of the first. The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously: the first person regulated the physiology of the second., even as he himself is regulated. Neither is functioning whole on his own; each has open loops that only somebody else can complete.”

Fascinating stuff – don’t you think? You can actually alter someone else’s hormones, like cortisol and oxytocin.

Delve into the science if you’d like, it gets even more interesting. However, here’s the main point if you want to convert this knowledge into something useful on a day-to-day basis. Learn to psyche yourself up for important interactions with people just as you would to compete in a sporting event.

Try to at least enter into important interactions with your boss, clients, prospects, spouse, children, friends, and others feeling the way you want them to feel. For example, if you want them to feel trusting, trust them until they prove that you cannot do so. You may not “regulate” them every time, but you certainly stack the deck in favor of doing so. I guess the alternative is to go into interactions with negative expectations. Either way, emotional contagion will kick in and do its thing. Which one do you think (and feel) will most likely help you joyfully participate in life?

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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