Contagious Moods

A well designed study of adolescents suggests that there are contagious moods. This study follows on earlier research suggesting that surrounding yourself with more “contented” or “discontented” people affects how likely you are to feel contented.

The new research involved groups of junior-high and high-school students who took part in depression screenings and answered questions about their best friends, many of whom were also enrolled in the study. In total, 2,194 students were included in the analysis, which used a mathematical model to look for connections among friend networks.

Researchers have long been interested in how social influences affect health and health behaviors. They have found evidence that obesity, drug use, smoking and perhaps mood may be affected by social networks. However, this research has been criticized for several flaws, especially for failing to control for the alternative explanation that “like seeks like” and the reason people with obesity have more overweight friends is that being overweight leads them to be more likely to befriend others who are also overweight.

The authors in this study developed a sophisticated mathematical model designed to distinguish between these two theories: like seeks like or contagion. And they found that there is a significant contagious effect of mood. Indeed, all of the separate components of depressive mood except poor appetite (poor sleep, unhappiness, low energy, etcetera) were affected by social contacts.

Now for the good news…

Good mood is significantly more contagious than bad mood.

The researchers were able to find adolescents who were depressed and appeared to come out of their depression because they had contacts who were in a good mood, but they did not find adolescents who were in a good mood and became depressed because they were around others who were in a bad mood.

There is even some evidence that providing support to those who are depressed can help boost a person’s mood.


Eyre RW, House T, Hill EM, Griffiths FE. 2017 Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks. R. Soc. open sci. 4: 170336.

Hill AL, Rand DG, Nowak MA, Christakis NA. Emotions as infectious diseases in
a large social network: the SISa model. Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Dec
22;277(1701):3827-35. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1217. Epub 2010 Jul 7. PubMed PMID:
20610424; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2992714.

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