Positive emotions and behaviors are contagious
Fostering kindness, compassion and empathy early on in children and teens can help reduce bullying.
As adults, you may have noticed that meanness and bullying behaviors are contagious. You may have observed these bullying behaviors in young children, teens and even in adults. When there is a culture of acceptance for cruelty or other forms of negative interactive behaviors, it can seem overwhelming. You may wonder what you can do to foster more kindness, compassion and empathy within yourself and those around you. It is possible. Just as meanness and cruelty are contagious, positive emotions and behavior are also contagious.
In an American Psychological Association article, author Lea Winerman explains that humans have millions of mirror neurons that cause us to mimic each other’s behaviors, emotions and facial expressions. Mirror neurons are why we tend to smile when someone smiles at us, or why we wince when we see someone hurt or injured. These neurons are also why children’s attitudes and behaviors are so contagious.
According to an article from StopBullying.gov, making intensive efforts to encourage empathy and other social skills in children can have immediate and long lasting results. For example, 80% of the time bullying happens there are bystanders who may be able to make a positive shift in the situation. They state that 57% of the time, bullying stops in less than 10 seconds when peers intervene on behalf of the person who is being bullied.
Encouraging positive emotions early on has an enormous impact on the future of a child socially, emotionally and academically. Adults can promote positive social and emotional health early on by fostering kindness, compassion and empathy. Talking about these emotions and behaviors daily is important; however, modeling those behaviors has the most impact. When you use words to describe their emotions, you are modeling pro-social behaviors of empathy. Notice and comment when they listen to each other, take turns, stay calm and accept responsibility for their own behaviors.
The MSU WorkLife Office website recommends that besides having a shared mission, goals and values, you can contribute to a more positive work atmosphere by modeling positive behaviors. Remember those mirror neurons? Be respectful to everyone you interact with. Show appreciation for your colleagues either through a note, or a personal comment. Take responsibility for your own actions, and remember everyone makes mistakes. Welcome and appreciate diversity. The best environments assure everyone can contribute their strengths and ideas.
Knowing that humans have millions of mirror neurons that cause us to mimic each other’s behaviors, emotions and facial expressions, you have a choice. Just as callousness and cruelty can spread, positive emotions and behaviors are also contagious. Do what you can to foster more kindness, compassion and empathy within yourself and those around you. It is possible.
MSU Extension offers a variety of classes to help you improve your social and emotional health. Stress Less with Mindfulness is a five-lesson series that introduces concepts of mindfulness such as mindful breathing, eating, walking, thinking and laughing. You can search for more classes by visiting our Mindfulness for Better Living and RELAX: Alternatives to Anger websites, or to sign up for a class you can go directly to our online referral site.