I am aware of the effect of positive emotions on others, but I am wondering about negative emotions. I am not talking about insults leading to negative emotions. I am talking about emotions like anger, frustration etc. in some leading to anger, frustration etc. in others.

Are there any studies which suggest that there is the ability for emotions such as anger and frustration to transfer and spread amongst others or lead to other emotions in others?

For example, can a group of people seeing one or more people getting frustrated about something lead to some or all in the observing group suffer from frustration or annoyance or other negative emotions?


I have found the answer to this question which was interesting, talking about negative priors (Beck, 1979; Huys, Daw, & Dayan, 2015) shaping your predictions about the world leading to more negative emotions.

What I am interested in is the possibility of negative emotions spreading amongst otherwise psychologically healthy people, just as positive emotions do. Although there is an interesting quote...

“Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.” ― Stanley Gordon West, Growing an Inch


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I have found that there is a term which encompasses the phenomenon of both positive and negative emotions spreading from person to person and that is Emotional Contagion.

Hatfield et al. (1993) points out that emotions can be "caught" in several different ways and outlines 3 propositions.

  1. Mimicry

In conversation, people automatically and continually mimic and synchronise their movements with the facial expressions, voices, postures, movements and instrumental behaviours of other people.

  1. Feedback

Subjective emotional experience is affected, moment to moment, by the activation of and feedback from facial, vocal, postrural and movement mimicry.

  1. Contagion

Consequently, people tend, from moment, to "catch" other people's emotions.

Apparently, Gerald Schoenewolf said in Emotional contagion: Behavioral induction in individuals and groups. Modern Psychoanalysis; 15, 49-61, that Emotional Contagion is

a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behaviour of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.

I don't have access to this article so I cannot confirm this.

Emotional contagion and empathy have an interesting relationship, in that they share similar characteristics, with the exception of the ability to differentiate between personal and pre-personal experiences, a process known as individuation. In The Art of Loving, social psychologist Erich Fromm explores these differences, suggesting that autonomy (self-regulation) is necessary for empathy, which is not found in emotional contagion.

“The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one's reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams of omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child. Love, being dependent on the relative absence of narcissism, requires the developement of humility, objectivity and reason.

I must try to see the difference between my picture of a person and his behavior, as it is narcissistically distorted, and the person's reality as it exists regardless of my interests, needs and fears.” ― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving


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