Watch Are Feelings Contagious? The Psychology of Shared Emotions

Written by: The Exchange

There’s growing evidence that we experience other people’s behavior in deeper ways than we thought. When speaking or listening to someone, your brain activity synchronizes with theirs. When you’re stressed, your changing heart rate synchronizes with those around you, and then they feel the stress too. When someone hurts your feelings, you may experience physical and emotional pain because the same brain areas are activated for both. On social media, all those likes and emoticons from friends and followers activate the reward center in your brain, making you want more. But how and why does this happen? You’ll hear from psychology researchers Wendy Berry Mendes and Mitch Prinstein about just how much other people can affect us in surprising ways, with moderation from actor/producer Ahmed Best.


Wendy Berry Mendes, PhD is the Sarlo/Ekman Professor of Human Emotion at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research merges social, personality, and biological psychology and primarily concerns how emotions, thoughts, and intentions are experienced in the body, shaping responses that further drive emotional thought. Some of her current research interests include mind-body relations throughout life, ways to communicate emotion and cope with stigma, and the effects of stress on decision-making. A prolific author, teacher, and mentor, Wendy is noted for her ability to engage audiences on issues related to emotional well-being.

Mitch Prinstein, PhD, ABPP is Chief Science Officer at the American Psychological Association and the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For over 25 years, Mitch has studied models of internalizing symptoms and health risk behavior among adolescents, focusing on the role of online and offline peer relationships in depression and self-injury. He has published over 200 peer-reviewed papers and 10 books, including the acclaimed trade book Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships. Mitch and his work have been featured in over 500 news articles and two TEDx talks, and he continues to lead as an advocate for psychological science, especially for those new to the field.


Ahmed Best is an Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and senior fellow at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. He’s the Assistant Artistic Director of the Echo theater Company, host of Star Wars Jedi Temple Challenge on Star Wars Kids and the Afrofuturist Podcast; CEO of BISN Media; and a writer, director, producer, actor, musician, and futurist. He starred in the Broadway musical Stomp and as the first CGI lead character in a motion picture, as Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars Prequel trilogy.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.