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  • Published February 14, 2019

Can you feel the love? 

It may surprise you to hear that our moods and emotions are contagious…..just like a winter cold.  Whether you’re in a good mood or bad mood, those around you are likely to unconsciously “catch” whatever emotion that you’re feeling.  This is a scientific phenomenon referred to as Emotional Contagion

The Emotional Contagion

Emotional Contagion occurs when a person’s emotions cause similar emotions in those around them.  Specialized cells called Mirror Neurons are activated when we see others do something. Mirror neurons are the reason why we experience sadness when we watch someone else cry, wince when we see someone get hurt and even yawn when we see someone else yawn.  Our mirror neurons automatically detect subtle expressions, voice tone and body language in others that we unconsciously adopt for ourselves.

Emotional Contagion in Schools 

In education, it is impossible to work on an isolated emotional island so it is critically important that we are aware of our emotional impact. The more status a person has, the more likely their mood will influence others around them.  To that end, teachers have a deep emotional influence on their students and whether they directly realize it or not set the tone for the mood in their classrooms. Student may come in with their own moods but it is the teacher’s mood that has the ability to override even the strongest influence in the classroom.

Understanding the emotional contagion is not an exercise in expecting everyone to be in great moods every day.  On the contrary bad moods are an equally important part of our overall emotional health.   However, when we are experiencing negative emotions, being aware of this influence allows us some control over how we impact those around us and has a profound influence on classroom and school culture.

Tips for managing Emotional Contagion in the classroom

  1. Name Your Mood: Students sense your mood whether you tell them or not so it’s important to just name it.  “Students, I am having a bad day today” or “I’m frustrated right now…” is a healthy way to model how we identify and manage our emotions.  We don’t always need to share the whys behind our emotions but students will feel safer understanding what they are sensing from you and it acts as a conduit for building empathy.
  2. Take a Break! Reset spaces in your classrooms are not just for students but for adults too.  If you feel your emotions drifting in the wrong direction, use them.  Another technique that works in a pinch is deep breathing (3,4,5 method).
  3. Smile. Your mood will thank you:  Sometimes we have to create a positive learning environment, even if we’re not in a good mood.  At those times, try deliberately changing your facial expression to the positive emotion that you’d like to feel.  Research shows that our mood will follow our facial expressions and body language.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bob and Jennifer

Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1994). Emotional contagion. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.