We all know from experience that moods are contagious. If your partner or flat mate comes home grumpy from work, the chances are good that you will end up snapping back, even if you initially felt pretty good.

It can work the other way, and your sunny mood may lift theirs, but more often than not the negative mood wins because of our human pre-disposition towards negative bias. Put simply, we have evolved to notice threats more than positive experiences, as this is more likely to assure our survival.

Neuroscience tells us that our brains contain certain cells called mirror neurons which are activated by watching others, leading us to copy them. This is probably at the root of empathy- though there is still a lot to be discovered about how exactly these cells work.

What we definitely know is that moods are contagious, and much more widely contagious than you might think. It’s fairly obvious that your partner being in a bad mood would affect you, but research shows that even a group of complete strangers standing at a bus stop and not interacting at all can affect each others’ mood, and, of course, there was the infamous facebook experiment of 2014 where feeds were altered positively or negatively to induce different moods in the users.

How to avoid mood contagion

So, especially at times when the mood around us is particularly negative, it is vital to be aware of the impact this can have. We all want to keep informed about what is happening in the world around us, but we should seriously consider the effect of hours scrolling through negative news stories. Our basic biological need to know about possible threats like the tiger that recently visited the next village is wildly over-activated by the modern day 24 hour news cycle about things happening all around the globe.

Equally, if your mood is already not the lightest, maybe a comedy would be a better choice for an evening’s relaxation than a horror film, which is likely to cause a huge spike in adrenalin.

Take note of how being around certain people makes you feel, and take steps to either see less of them, or inoculate yourself against them by being more conscious aware of the impact their emotions might have on you. Finally, consider the impact of your negative mood on others. You do have every right to feel your feelings- that doesn’t mean you have the right to inflict them on others, any more than any other type of contagion.

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