Spread Hope, Because Your Social Media Content is Contagious

A photo of a person placing a post-it note on their computer monitor in front of window facing the setting sun.

Are you familiar with the theory of emotional contagion? True to its name, author and academic Elaine Hatfield defines Emotional Contagion as “the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally.”

This skill is foundational to human’s ability to experience empathy. However, this skill is not limited to face-to-face interaction. You don’t even have to see a photo or video of the person you’re empathizing with in order to “converge emotionally” with them through online emotional contagion…

In 2014, a massive experiment on Facebook displayed that emotional contagion can occur through social media platforms.

In this study, Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks, researchers found “that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people, and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.”

I’ve been thinking about this piece a lot as our feeds have been flooded with COVID-19 related content. It raises a lot of questions for me, such as, does the content need to come from an individual to spur emotional contagion? Or, can branded content have the same effect on us?

I can’t answer that question for you, but I can say that I’ve been refreshed by some of vulnerability and transparencies I’ve seen from both friends and favored brands alike over the past two weeks. You’re (hopefully) taking some social distance in order to help your community #flattenthecurve. While you’re at it, it can’t hurt to think a bit more carefully about what emotions the content you’re sharing might be spread to that same network of people…and well beyond it.

As the study states: “Online messages influence our experience of emotions, which may affect a variety of offline behaviors.”

And so, I’m inspired to spread hope.

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