Magazine article Psychology Today

Motivation Is Contagious

Magazine article Psychology Today

Motivation Is Contagious

Article excerpt


Company culture is built one employee at a time.

OUR MINDS are wired to mimic others, especially facial expressions-whether we perceive them in person, on a television screen, or in a company logo. So when we see a smile we're more likely to smile ourselves. This tendency to imitate expressions is one reason comedies seem funnier when viewed in movie theaters and sporting events are more exciting when we're sitting in the stands. Emotions are contagious. The more people we see expressing a particular feeling, the more likely we are to adopt it ourselves, amplifying it in the process.

Mimicry is just one ofthe many unconscious tasks our minds perform while we're busy attending to other things. Like a mental app running in the background of our consciousness, it's designed to serve an important purpose.

The tendency to imitate is a powerful force in our lives, influencing us in more ways than we recognize. Take, for example, research my colleagues and I conducted at the University of Rochester, calling attention to the way workplace colleagues influence employee performance. In a series of studies published in Motivation and Emotion, we found that simply placingparticipants in the same roomasahighly motivated individual improved their drive and enhanced their performance. But when we paired participants with a less motivated individual, their inspiration dwindled and their performance dropped, too.

Surprisingly, when we asked participants if their performance had been influenced by die person workingnearby, they said it absolutely had not. The effect had occurred without their knowledge.

We call this motivational synchronicity and argue that it's a by-product ofthe way our brains have evolved. By unconsciously mimicking the motivation of those around us, we better relate to one another- a useful habit in the evolutionary past, when belonging to a group could mean the difference between life and death.

The challenge is that this tendency to synchronize our drive to that of those around us isn't always beneficiai in workplace settings, especially when we're collaboratingwith colleagues who are not a positive influence.

Because we are born to emulate the motivation and emotions of those around us, negative colleagues can have a detrimental impact not just on our attitudes but on our performance as well. …

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