You are contagious

Throughout the semester, we’ve been discussing contagious disorders during the Black Death, influenza, and AIDS, but let’s stop for a moment to ponder over a contagion that surrounds us everyday.

In Vanessa Van Edwards’ Ted Talk You are contagious, she describes human emotions as contagious. Her demonstration of how the absence of one’s hands from our frontal view creates discomfort is intriguing because it challenged my pre-conceived notion that the first body part we look at when we see a person is their face. Who would’ve thought we attribute 12% more importance to one’s hand gestures than their words? She also depicts how smelling a sweat pad collected from first-time sky divers and giving it to individuals (without any awareness about the study), can evoke heightened responses in the brain regions associated with fear.

Vanessa Van Edwards’ conveyed that humans can be contagious both non-verbally and verbally. Humans are a collective force, we follow the crowd, and adapt emotions. If we see the expression of fear on someone’s face, we will acknowledge it, recognize it as fearful, and adapt in order to avoid the fearful event or object. In this way, the contagion effect of human emotions keeps us safe. In the same way, smiling is also contagious. The facial feedback theory advocates that while facial expressions can cause emotions, emotions can also cause facial expressions. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘laughing is contagious’, so does that mean this contagion effect gives humans the power to inject emotions like happiness?

To depict the spread of emotions through verbal means, Van Edwards portrays how normal, everyday conversation starters such as ‘how are you?’ and ‘where are you from?’ lack substance and pleasure. She encourages the utilization of conversation starters that verbally use dopamine and engage positive aspects of one’s life. She says that instead, conversation starters should be ‘is there anything exciting you’re working on now?’ or ‘when’s your next vacation going to be?’. Why don’t we extricate positive aspects of our lives and bring it to different conversations in different places? If we have the ability to ‘spread’ positivity, why don’t we?

On that note, keep smiling.

1 Comment

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  1. While I agree with the initial part of our actions/ verbal / non-verbal cues being contagious and defining how we relate with someone, a conversation starter of “is there anything exciting you are working on?” may open some can of worms. What if there’s nothing at the moment or there’s been lots of failures they are yet to learn to embrace? While it can have the ability to “spread positivity”, it can also be negative for someone who might not have something they are working on. Thus, that one line that opens can of worms, evokes a negative feeling/attitude which one can carry on throughout their day. Their negative feeling, evoked by that conversation, thus affect the way they relate with others and the way others relate with them (similar to your point). Thus the choice of the conversation starter becomes a source in spreading negative mood/ attitude.

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