Are Emotions Shared Online Contagious?

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Emotions and the online world

For people born after the mid-1990s, so-called Generation Z, one of the most sought-after jobs is online influencer. Social media influencers get paid for promoting certain products or companies online.

According to the Financial Times, “an influencer with 100,000 followers on Instagram can charge around $2,700 for a single photo or video.”

High level earners, the best social media influencers, have the power to sway your emotions and actions. A new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that vloggers (people who make social media video content) act as mirrors for our emotional state and we seek out influencers who share our emotional outlook on life. Literally, their emotions are contagious.

The research focused on YouTube video creators who had a minimum of 10,000 subscribers. Some of the test subjects had millions of subscribers. People watch a lot of YouTube videos, nearly 5 billion videos a day.

So, analyzing that particular mode of social media currency tells you a lot about how people interact with each other online. There have been other studies that focused on written content from sites like Twitter and Facebook, but this was the first study to look at the effects of video on our emotions.

The research team looked closely at the words, actions and feelings being conveyed by the most popular vloggers. Then, they studied the comments and engagements being left by users.

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They found two intriguing correlations. There was an immediate effect on users’ emotions. They lined up almost perfectly with the emotions being conveyed by the vlogger. The second effect was more sustained.

The users exhibited signs of homophily. That’s a psychological term that refers to the “birds of a feather flock together” effect. Users formed deep connections with vloggers who shared their values and beliefs.

The lead author of the study, Hannes Rosenbusch from Tilburg University summarizes the study results. “Our research is a reminder that the people we encounter online influence our everyday emotions – being exposed to happy (or angry) people can make us more happy (or angry) ourselves.

Our social life might move more and more to the online sphere, but our emotions and the way we behave towards one another will always be steered by basic psychological processes,” summarizes Rosenbusch.

Some people might think that a glut of social media communication actually leaves people less connected to each other in the real world. Yet, this study seems to offer a more nuanced interpretation of our online social interactions. We’re using technology, but we’re exhibiting basic principles of social psychology.

Yet, how are social media influencers able to touch people on such a deep, emotional level? Nahla Summers, a professional life coach and studier of personal behavior, seems to put her finger on the answer. “If you look at some of the key videos that have gone viral recently, they will be about human connection. Ironically in a world where we are living with less human connection we are so often moved and connected through social media by stories of human connection,” she notes.

No matter the medium, people have a deep-seated longing for personal connection. We seek out people, digital arenas and online content that reinforces our world view. This psychological need is being harnessed by online marketers through social media influencers. MacEwen Patterson is a branding and content expert with the Digital Niche Agency.

Guy Counseling got a chance to ask him to weigh in on this topic and he seems to think that vloggers can amplify emotions through top-notch production value. He says that “with the means of production democratized into the hands of the prosumer, the average story quality improves, and the number of relatable stories increases.

Rather than only having access to workshopped, formulated media, people can now tell the stories of their lives to one another with as much production value as an MGM musical from
the 1920s (well, almost).”

If you’ve ever been brought to the brink of tears by a sad video on YouTube, then you know that there is truth to this new study. Emotions leak through our computer screens and vloggers are getting better and better and harnessing this power.

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Marketers are getting wiser to the power of social psychology, as well. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. The good news is that people haven’t lost their capacity for empathy, even though we’re glued to our smartphones, tablets and computer screens.

About Freddy Blackmon 65 Articles
Freddy Blackmon is a freelance writer and journalist who has a passion for cars, technology, and fitness. Look for articles on these topics and more. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.