What Is Social Contagion in Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Social contagion is a phenomenon that has been studied extensively in the field of psychology. It refers to the spread of emotions, behaviors, and ideas from one individual to another or a group of individuals. This phenomenon is often seen in social situations where people are influenced by others’ attitudes and actions.

How Does Social Contagion Work?
Social contagion occurs when people are exposed to others’ emotions, behaviors, or ideas and adopt them unconsciously. For example, when you see someone yawn, you may feel the urge to yawn as well. This behavior is known as contagious yawning.

Similarly, when people are exposed to positive emotions such as happiness and excitement, they tend to feel the same way and exhibit similar behaviors. This effect is known as emotional contagion.

Another way social contagion works is through social norms. People tend to conform to the behavior of their peers because they want to fit in or be accepted by the group. This type of social influence is referred to as normative influence.

Examples of Social Contagion
Social contagion can be observed in many different contexts. Here are some examples:

  • The spread of viral videos on social media
  • The rise in popularity of certain fashion trends
  • The adoption of certain slang words or phrases among a group of friends
  • The spread of negative attitudes towards a particular group or individual

Social Contagion vs. Mass Hysteria

Social contagion should not be confused with mass hysteria, which is a collective delusion that can cause groups of people to exhibit irrational behavior. Mass hysteria typically occurs in response to a perceived threat or danger.

For example, during the Salem witch trials in the late 1600s, many people were accused and executed for being witches based on little or no evidence. This was a case of mass hysteria, where fear and paranoia spread throughout the community.

The Role of Social Media

Social media has played a significant role in the spread of social contagion in recent years. The widespread use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has made it easier for people to share their emotions, behaviors, and ideas with others.

Social media can amplify the effects of social contagion by allowing information to spread quickly and to a large audience. This can be both positive and negative.

For example, a viral video that promotes kindness or generosity can inspire people around the world to do good deeds. On the other hand, negative attitudes or beliefs can also spread rapidly on social media, leading to harmful behavior.


In conclusion, social contagion is a fascinating phenomenon that has important implications for our understanding of human behavior. By studying how emotions, behaviors, and ideas are transmitted from one person to another, psychologists can gain insights into how we form our attitudes and make decisions.

Social contagion can be both positive and negative depending on the context in which it occurs. It is important for individuals to be aware of how they are being influenced by others and to think critically about their own beliefs and actions.