Are You Catching the Emotions Around You?



Did you know that feelings are contagious? Yes, there is more than the flu that we can catch when we are around other people. This is great when those around us are feeling optimistic, hopeful, excited, grateful or serene. It’s less positive when the feelings they have are anger, shame, resentment or anxiety.

We are sensitive towards other people’s feelings more than we may realize. We have specific parts of our brain that reflect back to us what is happening in the brain of others. The closer we are to them, the more in tune our brains will be. We can pick up emotions from other people, without even noticing that we are doing it. There is a biological reason that we do this and it’s very instinctive. The emotions of others can give us clues as to how we should feel. It boils down to survival and to connecting with others.

Say you walk into a room full of people and they are all feeling scared. You will sense this right away and also feel scared because their fear suggests that there is something to be afraid of, even though you have not seen anything. Equally, if you enter a room full of amused and joyful people, you are likely to feel in good spirits because it signals to you that all is well. So sometimes, the fact that emotions are contagious is very useful.

There are other times when the fact that feelings are contagious does not help us. If someone is feeling frantic and nervous about something that is unrelated to you, there is no need for you to take on those feelings. However, if you are not aware that feelings are contagious, you might mimic their feelings without even realizing it. That can be very confusing for us.

So, anytime you are around other people, keep in mind that there are lots of emotions whirling about and they aren’t all yours. Even if they might feel like your own. Other people’s emotions might help you know which situations are good for you and which ones you would better avoid or to connect with them. But this doesn’t apply to all emotions that people around you have. Notice other people’s feelings, but watch out which emotions you allow to let rub off on you.


Armony, J., Vuilleumier, P.,  (2013). The Cambridge Handbook of Human Affective Neuroscience, Cambridge University Press

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