Smile: Moods are contagious among friends, study finds

WARWICK, England — Most moods among friends are actually contagious, but don’t fret — a pal’s frequent sullen spirit won’t lead you to suffer from clinical depression, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, an ongoing study among American youth that looks at the moods and friendship networks of its participants.

Couple sitting in field laughing
Your friends have a bigger influence on your daily life than you might expect. A new study finds that moods, good or bad, are contagious in social circles.

While the researchers found evidence that moods, whether good or bad, could pass across a social group, this form of transference was not enough to send a youth into a spell of depression.

Another finding was that adolescents whose group of friends suffered from diminished mood were less likely to be happy themselves.

The inverse was true of youth who surrounded themselves with more upbeat acquaintances.

“We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness, and sleep) spreading through U.S. adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood over time,” explains lead researcher Rob Eyre in a press release. “Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.”

Although previous research has found that social support plays a critical role in mental health, this research suggests that not all acquaintances make a positive impact on our mood.

With newfound evidence that bad mood affects those we hold dearly, the importance of maintaining a positive outlook becomes even more important, the researchers argue.

Previous research has shown a number of strategies to be effective in promoting a good nature, including quality sleep, exercise, and stress reduction.

“The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents,” says co-author Frances Griffiths. “Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.”

In other words, even if a friend’s poor disposition won’t lead you to a formal diagnosis of depression, there are substantial residual effects.

The full study was published last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


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