Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Are Moods Catchy?

posted by Michele Olson

You had a great day at work. Every song on the radio is your favorite as you head home for the evening. You pop in the door, put down your things and say hello to your spouse. Your spouse is not in a good mood. Things didn’t go well at work and there was an overdue bill in the mail.

What happens to your mood? According to three professors Elaine Hatfield,
University of Hawaii; John T. Cacioppo, Ohio State University and Richard L. Rapson
University of Hawaii – your emotions are contagious. Technically the term is; emotional contagion. Their study concludes that people do catch the emotions of others.*

The worst thing is; this can happen unconsciously. It may be happening before you know it. This subject has been studied since the 1800’s and practically every decade since. Originally scientists were interested in the idea of “mimicry”. Imagine yourself listening to someone tell you about a very intense experience such as an accident or an operation….if you could look in a mirror at that moment, your face would be reflecting what you think they experienced. Catching someone’s emotions is very similar.

In another study led by John M. Ruiz, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical psychology at Washington State University, heart bypass patients with neurotic and anxious spouses were much more likely to be depressed 18 months after surgery -- independent of their own personality. This can be problematic because depression is known to put recovering cardiac patients at higher risk of further heart attacks and death.

Kathryn Matthews, a writer for Oprah’s “O” Magazine recently posted an article called
Marital Mood Leak: Feelings May Be Contagious. She points out that if you see that your spouse is anxious or depressed, you literally feel the pain. She does suggest a few ways to prevent “spousal mood infection.”

Make a plan ahead of time on how you will respond to negativity. That could mean leaving the situation by going for a walk. It may mean scheduling more alone time in your relationship or engaging in exercise alone or together. You may need to take the issue up with a counselor.

Find out if the problem is physical
Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Is your spouse cheerier when it’s sunny and nice? A special full-spectrum light may be what you need.

Play as a Team
The “O” article suggests couple therapy and of course we would like to suggest marriage education through an organization like thinkmarriage.org

Another great resource is a blog we did Aug. 22, 2007 in our blog archives, What Shamu Taught Me About Marriage.

The good news is that optimism is also catchy! Learning to communicate and resolve conflicts on issues like bad moods can go a long way in keeping your relationship strong.

Tell us your story…have you “caught a mood” from your spouse?

* E. Hatfield, J.T. Cacioppo, and R.L. Rapson, Primitive emotional contagion, Emotions and Social Behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 14, 151-177. M. S. Clark, Ed. (Sage, Newbury Park, 1992).

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