Physiological covariation among strangers and close others


Wendy Berry Mendes


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Date: April 19, 2017


Emotions, thoughts, and intentions are not simply concepts that live privately in one’s minds, but rather, affective states emanate from us via multiple channels – voice, posture, facial expressions, and behavior – and influence those around us. Affect contagion, or the spread of affective states—including stress, emotions, motivation—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 others’ behaviors increases liking, and neuroscientists demonstrate that observing someone experience pain may produce similar neural activation as experiencing pain. In this talk I will discuss a series of experiments exploring the antecedents and consequences of affect contagion using dynamic psychophysiological measurement. The experiments include ones focusing on mothers and children and explore how infants (12 to 14 month olds) “catch” their mothers’ stress reactivity and how touch potentiates stress contagion. Another series of experiments explore how recently acquainted individuals can catch each others’ affective state and how moderators such as racial/ethnic group, social standing, valence and empathetic tendencies moderate affect contagion.

Created: Friday, April 21st, 2017