Catching a smile from individuals and crowds: Evidence for distinct emotional contagion processes

ADAM QURESHI, REBECCA MONK, Shelby Quinn, Bethan Gannon, Kayleigh McNally, Derek Heim

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Research examining how crowd emotions impact observers typically requires participants to engage in an atypical mental process whereby (static) arrays of individuals are cognitively integrated to represent a crowd. The current work sought to extend our understanding of how crowd emotions may spread to individuals by assessing self-reported emotions, attention and muscle movement in response to emotions of dynamic, virtually modelled crowd stimuli. Self-reported emotions and attention from thirty-six participants were assessed when foreground and background crowd characters exhibited homogeneous (Study1) or heterogeneous (Study2) positive, neutral or negative emotions. Results suggested that affective responses in observers are shaped by crowd emotions even in the absence of direct attention. Thirty-four participants supplied self-report and facial EMG responses to the same homogeneous (Study 3) or heterogeneous (Study 4) crowd stimuli. Results indicated that positive crowd emotions appeared to exert greater attentional pull and objective responses, while negative crowd emotions also elicited affective responses. Study 5 (n=67) introduced a control condition (stimuli containing an individual person) to examine if responses are unique to crowds and found that emotional contagion from crowds was more intense than from individuals. These studies present methodological advances in the study of crowd emotional contagion and have implications for our broader understanding of how people process, attend and affectively respond to crowds. Advancing theory by suggesting that emotional contagion from crowds is distinct from that elicited by individuals, findings may have applications for refining crowd management approaches.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Oct 2023


  • Emotional contagion
  • eye-tracking
  • facial electromyography
  • Crowds
  • Attention


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