Good Moods Really Are Contagious, Study Shows, While Depression Isn't — Which Is Excellent News For So Many Reasons
Ever wonder if the old wives' tales are true, and good moods really are contagious? At first glance, it seems like an easy question to answer — according to conventional wisdom, laughter begets more laughter. (Why else do we laugh even when we don't understand jokes?) On the other hand, conventional wisdom also claims you can catch a cold from being cold and that (please don't attempt this at home) mixing a pregnant woman's urine with Drano can predict the gender of a baby. As my crotchety old psychology adviser would say, "The plural of anecdote is not fact." That being said, research from the Universities of Manchester and Warwick indicates that, for once, common wisdom is actually on to something: According to their study, good moods really are contagious. Perhaps even more importantly, however, is that researchers found depression isn't.
According to the Independent, scientists from both universities looked at data from more than 2,000 adolescent students in the United States. Using techniques based on the spread of disease, researchers modeled how moods were "passed" from person to person over the course of a year. After accounting for homophily, or the tendency to make friends like oneself, analyses showed that depression didn't spread — which is pretty great news. In contrast, mental stability did.
The UK study also showed that having non-depressed friends halved the probability that students would develop depression themselves; furthermore, these relationships doubled the likelihood of recovering from depression in those who were already depressed. "Our results suggest that promotion of friendship between adolescents can reduce both incidence and prevalence of depression," the authors wrote.
This is hugely important on both a societal and individual level. Now that we have evidence showing that healthy friendships can actually aid in recovery from depression, psychologists can use this knowledge to inform treatments — encouraging depressed patients to maintain relationships with their friends, setting up programs that match patients with mentally healthy mentors, and so on.
As helpful as that will be in treating depression in the future, the individual ramifications are just as important. One of the hallmarks of depression is social isolation; and although this typically makes the illness worse, some patients isolate themselves for fear of bringing others down with their mood. Now that research flat-out contradicts that belief, though, it may be easier for patients to maintain social contact.
Still, as difficult as it may be to force social contact during a depressive episode, study after study has shown that personal relationships are vital in the ongoing recovery from depression. Humans are social beings, and isolation does nothing to quell the symptoms of mood disorders. Luckily, even just a little human contact aids in depression — so the most important part is to try. Images: *vlad*/Flickr; Giphy