#40: What is Emotional Contagion and How Relevant is it in Aged Care?

Season #4

Show notes: Episode 40

What is Emotional Contagion and How Relevant is it in Aged Care? 

While I was at Uni, my PhD examined the concept of emotional contagion. But what exactly does this mean?

It relates closely to this question I was recently asked by a client:

  • How does the positive attitude of staff influence the atmosphere and world of residents in aged care?

When I talk about emotional contagion, not many people can define it, which is understandable as it is not an everyday term. So in this episode I want to explore the meaning and power of emotional contagion, from the impact of your positive attitude in a stressful environment to the real benefits of not taking things personally , and lots in between.

In this episode you will learn:

  • The power of emotional contagion
  • How emotional contagion spontaneously spreads
  • The impact of your positive attitude in a stressful environment
  • Strategies to remain psychologically present in your role
  • The real benefits of not taking things personally.

It’s highly likely you’ve heard the old saying, ‘misery loves company’ and I’m sure you’ve experienced times where you’ve felt sad and wanted to listen to sad music. This is something we all do at times. It can also work the other way too, for example, you could be feeling good, then all of a sudden you hear a mournful song out of the blue and it can instantly transform your mood to feeling low.

We are exposed to so much information each day, and it is important to understand the impact the information we hear can have on our state of mind.

Going back to my PhD, I looked specifically at emotional contagion in the home care sector. I interviewed and surveyed workers who deliver support to older people living independently and found out a lot about their relationships and connections with clients and the impact it has on their wellbeing. It was clear that both positive and negative emotions can impact workers and their clients.

While this is a good thing when the emotions are positive, the reality is, not everyone is happy. For those living with chronic health conditions, mobility limitations and loss of independence, it can be very difficult to accept help and support

This creates tension and frustration, making it much more difficult for workers to support their clients, which can lead them to try and avoid the negativity altogether.

So if you find yourself in this situation, what can you do?

Emotional contagion is a form of social contagion that involves the spontaneous spread of emotions and related behaviours. It can happen from one individual to another, or within a large group. Emotions can be shared between people in many ways with most occurring through body language. Mimicry often happens involuntarily, and while it can help you relate to others, it is only one part of emotional contagion – the other is about the feedback. When we mimic the emotion of another, we begin to experience it ourselves. This can be in response to a negative emotion, or to a positive one.  

It is possible to work around someone who is down without catching their blues. Being psychologically present in your role allows you to draw from your environment to maintain your happiness. Even if you are starting to succumb to negativity, creating positivity in your surroundings can help you feel better. Another effective strategy is to offer positivity to turn the tables, for example by smiling and keeping your voice cheerful. The simple act of smiling can help you feel more positive, and the other person may catch your mood too.

If you are working with someone in a negative state, don’t take it personally. Keep in mind, you are not responsible for their feelings, and you may not be able to help. If this is the case, it is okay to suggest seeking more help or support – for them or for you.

To avoid the trap of negative emotional contagion, we can all be mindful about what we are doing to reflect unhelpful energy, and spread positive emotions instead.



Grief and Loss in Late Life

Beyond the Reluctant Move book

Enhancing Emotional Wellbeing in Late Life Practical Strategies Workshop