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How Do Induced Affective States Bias Emotional Contagion to Faces? A Three-Dimensional Model

Pinilla, Andrés; Tamayo, Ricardo M.; Neira, Jorge

Affective states can propagate in a group of people and influence their ability to judge others’ affective states. In the present paper, we present a simple mathematical model to describe this process in a three-dimensional affective space. We obtained data from 67 participants randomly assigned to two experimental groups. Participants watched either an upsetting or uplifting video previously calibrated for this goal. Immediately, participants reported their baseline subjective affect in three dimensions: (1) positivity, (2) negativity, and (3) arousal. In a second phase, participants rated the affect they subjectively judged from 10 target angry faces and ten target happy faces in the same three-dimensional scales. These judgments were used as an index of participant’s affective state after observing the faces. Participants’ affective responses were subsequently mapped onto a simple three-dimensional model of emotional contagion, in which the shortest distance between the baseline self-reported affect and the target judgment was calculated. The results display a double dissociation: negatively induced participants show more emotional contagion to angry than happy faces, while positively induced participants show more emotional contagion to happy than angry faces. In sum, emotional contagion exerted by the videos selectively affected judgments of the affective state of others’ faces. We discuss the directionality of emotional contagion to faces, considering whether negative emotions are more easily propagated than positive ones. Additionally, we comment on the lack of significant correlations between our model and standardized tests of empathy and emotional contagion.
Published in: Frontiers in Psychology, 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00097, Frontiers Media S.A.