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According to a newly released study, emotions such as happiness and sadness spread from person to person in much the same way that diseases spread from an epidemiological perspective.  While the idea that social networks can influence behavior, health, and emotions, has been kicked around for some time the current study is the first to explicitly map “social networks against actual disease models”.

For me, the most interesting finding is the disproportionate way that misery spreads in relation to happiness:

In the current study, Hill’s team compared patterns of relationships and emotions measured in the study to those generated by a model designed to track SARS, foot-and-mouth disease and other traditional contagions. They discounted spontaneous or immediately shared emotion — friends or relatives undergoing a common experience — and focused on emotional changes that followed changes in others.

In the spread of happiness, the researchers found clusters of “infected” and “uninfected” people, a pattern considered a “hallmark of the infectious process,” said Hill. “For happiness, clustering is what you expect from contagion rates. Whereas for sadness, the clusters were much larger than we’d expect. Something else is going on.”

Happiness proved less social than sadness. Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11 percent, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy. (my emphasis)

Something to think about.

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