Study finds that teens can ‘catch’ moods from friends

Mental Health

And bad moods are more contagious than good moods, researchers have found

If you live alongside a teenager, or ever were one yourself, the latest findings from the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford may not come as a huge surprise to you, as they discovered that teenagers can ‘catch’ moods from their friends – and that bad ones are more potent than good ones.

In the study, two groups of teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old, recorded their daily moods and social interactions while on a short residential trip, where they noted that the moods of individuals began to reflect those of the people that they were spending time with.

And while bad moods were more easily passed around, the researchers found that when a teenager ‘catches’ a low mood from their friend, it actually has a positive effect, as the friend felt uplifted by the mood exchanged. They also noted how teenagers did not exclude those in low moods – they were not choosing to match themselves only with those who felt the same way as they did themselves.

With a look to the future, researchers Dr Stephanie Burnett Heyes, from the University of Birmingham, and Dr Per Block, from Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, highlight how these findings could lead to a better understanding of adolescents’ mental wellbeing.

“We hope it is a step towards understanding why people fall into prolonged low states, the social factors that determine emotional wellbeing in adolescents, and, in the long run, how it may be possible to provide emotional support leading to improved mental health,” says Dr Block.

“This study raises so many outstanding questions, especially in COVID-19 times, such as what do we lose when interaction is not face-to-face, and what is preserved?” Dr Burnett Heyes added.

It’s something that many of us will have already been familiar with anecdotally, but the study also highlights the importance of uplifting others, and of being there to make sure that they feel heard when they are going through a low period. Teens, tweens, or fully-fledged adults, there’s always something to be said for the power of a listening ear and a kind word.


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