People detect the emotions, thoughts, and intentions of others from multiple sources - their voice, posture, facial expressions, and behavior. Affect contagion, the spread of emotional states (e.g., stress, feelings, evaluations) from one person to another, is studied in a variety of ways in the social sciences: sociologists find that happiness is contagious within social networks, social psychologists show that mimicking the behavior of others increases liking, and neuroscientists demonstrate that observing someone experience pain produces similar neural activation as experiencing pain. In this project, the researcher team will examine the precursors and consequences of affect contagion in groups, including the role of social status. This work provides new knowledge on group dynamics that will identify how and why emotions spread between individuals. These findings can enhance our understanding and improvement of the interpersonal processes influencing team members from a variety of groups important to American society such as the military, families, and medical teams. The research team also plans to work with the San Francisco Exploratorium, a science museum and learning laboratory for all ages, to develop exhibits that teach visitors how to achieve interpersonal synchrony and how it influences human social interaction.

The research team proposes three studies examining affect contagion. To examine this, the researchers will assess physiological responses. The first study will examine how different types of affect (i.e., positive or negative) and arousal intensity influence affect contagion. The perceived status of the paired participants will also be assessed. The second study will examine how status roles influence affect contagion by focusing on medical students who are paired with lower status (undergraduates) or upper status (residents) partners; the last study will experimentally manipulate status within dyads. Integrating sophisticated psychophysiology measures and statistical modeling, these studies will thoroughly examine how affect spreads within a dyad and the important role of social status in catching others' emotions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Steven J. Breckler
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University of California San Francisco
San Francisco
United States
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