Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Study of Emotional Contagion from the Perspective of Interpersonal Relationships

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Study of Emotional Contagion from the Perspective of Interpersonal Relationships

Article excerpt

Emotional contagion was examined from the perspective of interpersonal relationships. Using a vignette paradigm, 156 Japanese undergraduates (108 females and 48 males) assumed either a friend, acquaintance, senior, or junior as their partner. Their emotional expression and experience were measured when their assumed partner told them of intensely positive episodes (e.g., the long-sought passing of a certification examination) and intensely negative episodes (e.g., the death of their mother). Emotional responses were significantly stronger in the friend, senior, and junior conditions than in the acquaintance condition for both positive and negative episodes, suggesting the degree of intimacy in the interpersonal relationship influenced emotional contagion. Emotional responses were also stronger in the junior condition than in the senior condition, suggesting that social power in interpersonal relationships influenced emotional contagion. Moreover, sad expressions resulting from partners' disclosures did not differ across conditions, reflecting the display rule of negative emotions in Japan. These results indicate that interpersonal relationships need to be taken into account in the model of emotional contagion.

Keywords: emotional contagion, interpersonal relationships, vignette paradigm, emotional expressions, intimacy.


Emotional contagion refers to the tendency to catch (experience / express) another person's emotions (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994, p. 7). In everyday life, people commonly disclose emotional experiences to others, but the listener does not always share the same emotion as the person relaying the experience. Some people are more sensitive than others to the emotional expressions of those around them, and people are more likely to share emotions in certain relationships. Personal factors and relationship factors both influence the processes of emotional contagion. The present experiment examined two factors that influence emotional contagion; individual differences in emotional susceptibility, and interpersonal relationships.


Previous studies have described the mechanism for emotional contagion as innate and automatic, emphasizing both its universality and its ubiquity. However, emotional contagion does not always occur because of individual differences in emotional susceptibility. Hatfield et al. (1994) proposed that emotionally susceptible people are those who: (a) pay attention to others and are able to read others' emotional expressions; (b) construe themselves as interrelated with others rather than independent and unique; (c) tend to mimic facial, vocal, and postural expressions; and (d) have a conscious emotional experience that is powerfully influenced by peripheral feedback.

Based on the above characteristics, Doherty (1997) developed the Emotional Contagion Scale (ECS), a 15-item unidimensional measure of susceptibility to others' emotions, using samples in Hawai'i, Manoa, and Maui. Principal components analysis of the items yielded a one-factor model that best fit the data. In addition, two sets of intercorrelated items were found. One was a positive subscale (consisting of the love and happiness items) and the second was a negative subscale (consisting of the fear, anger, and sadness items). Although Doherty pointed out the possibility that the ECS had a multidimensional structure, it was finally concluded that the ECS had a single structure.

However, because emotions vary on a broad spectrum, and each emotion has its own processes, it may well be more valid to consider emotional contagion as a multidimensional structure rather than a unidimensional structure. Kimura, Yogo, and Daibo (2007) translated the ECS into Japanese, and refined the factor structure. (1) From the results of factor analysis, ECS was composed of 4 factors; Happiness contagion, Sadness contagion, Anger contagion, and Love contagion. …

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