Use Emotional Contagion To Hack Your Mood

We all love Game Of Thrones (or maybe not anymore…). But if you watch it all the time, you might start picking up emotions, phrases or manners of speech from that fantasy world. I’ve personally started glowering and muttering “Dracarys” when I get really angry.

That brings up an intriguing point:

Trying to ‘catch’ your preferred emotions may be as effective as laboring toward them.

When you watch a lot of a TV show, you eventually pick up emotions and mannerisms from it, just as you do from people you spend lots of time around.

This effect has been researched extensively. It’s variably called social, behavioral, or emotional contagion, and it’s a real phenomenon, caused by both biological and psychological factors.

Emotional Contagion

Whereas an extra $5,000 in pay equates to a 2% increase in happiness, researchers have found that for each happy friend in one’s social circle, happiness increases by 9%.

This demonstrates the contagiousness of emotions, and how trying to ‘catch’ your preferred emotions may be as effective as laboring toward them.

According to a study cited by the American Psychological Association: “as they nonconsciously and automatically mimic their companions’ fleeting expressions of emotion, people also may come to feel as their partners feel.”

Using Emotional Contagion For Mental Wellness: TV Therapy?

You’re already feeling emotions and sensations second-hand when you watch TV. When watching TV or movies, our mirror neurons activate in similar ways to when we’re with people in-person.

This function of mirror neurons helps facilitate emotional contagion. So why not use TV consciously, as a tool, to increase your emotional wellbeing?

Instead of just flipping on Netflix and watching randomly, be selective in what you watch. By selecting shows to watch depending on the mental effect you want to achieve, you can use emotional contagion as a tool.

The following shows feature examples of behavior that can help you re-learn social skills. They may also help you rediscover emotions or parts of yourself you thought you’d lost.

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley’s characters show well-developed sense of self, which may help you carry yourself with more of an air of confidence. They spin their nerdiness as quirkiness, and they own their awkward outbursts.

Notice how characters use an awareness of their shortcomings to make up for them with humor. You may start to get into the same habit, yourself.

How I Met Your Mother

In shows where characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, writers have to show how the characters deal with difficult emotions — while maintaining general positivity and optimism. This creates a great opportunity to pick up better coping skills, by osmosis.

If you tend to feel discouraged by failure and rejection (who doesn’t?), you’ll be unconsciously inspired by watching Ted Moseby try again and again to find ‘The One.’

Queer Eye

Honey, if you pick up the tone and realistic positivity of the Fab 5, your inner voice will thank you.

The Fab 5 of Queer Eye consistently see people, places, and situations in the most favorable and forgiving light possible – and it’s through genuine optimism, rather than phony sugar-coating.

By bingeing on Queer Eye, you’ll not only get ideas and inspiration for bettering your life, but also, you may pick up a more positive internal voice through social contagion.

Outlander

Whether you’re a woman or a man, get wrapped up with these characters to feel more confident in the scariest situations. Outlander’s characters repeatedly find themselves in unfamiliar places, with unfamiliar people and social norms.

Take some cues from the fierce Claire or Jamie — learn to maintain your confidence and stand your ground no matter how anxious and helpless you feel. This show can also model the skill of social adaptation.

The Good Place

On The Good Place, characters talk about some moral and ethical dilemmas while living through other ones. You’ll see expressions of loyalty, concern, problem solving, and care by Eleanor, Chidi, and the gang.

Topically, you’ll also see that there is no absolute good or absolute bad. So maybe you can stop ragging on yourself for a bit?

Have suggestions for shows that model healthy emotions and social skills? Did a TV series help you through a tough time? Drop us a line about it, here.

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