What Happens When You Turn a Hospital Into a 5-Star Hotel?
When we look around at our companies or workplaces, it seems that the employee s are all unique individuals with different personalities, thought patterns, beliefs, values, and learning styles. And while this is technically true, it misses an important point. Our personalities may be distinct and unique, but our brains are highly interconnected; they are linked on a wireless mirror neuron network. Mirror neurons, as readers of The Happiness Advantage may remember, are those receptors in our brains that cause us to unconsciously mimic the actions of those around us. When we see someone perform an action, like a yawn or a smile, our mirror neurons light up and signal our bodies to perform that same motion. But mirror neurons are so key to positive inception because our thoughts and perceptions are what dictate our nonverbal actions. So when you nonverbally express excitement, for example, my mirror neurons pick up on and imitate your expression of excitement. This, in turn, makes my brain think I'm experiencing the same excitement you are experiencing. Researcher Paul Marsden at the University of Sussex wrote a great review of this research showing that not only yawns and smiles are contagious but also emotions like stress, anxiety, optimism, confidence, boredom, and engagement. Thanks to our mirror neuron network, in other words, we are hardwired for inception.
History offers some dramatic examples of how we are programmed for social contagion. In 1962, in what was known as the June Bug incident, sixty-two factory workers at a textile mill were "bitten" by an insect whose venom apparently caused terrible nausea, vomiting, and numbness of limbs. Many of the dressmakers were hospitalized. Yet after months of investigation, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) found that the symptoms had been caused not by the venom of a mysterious insect but by sheer, communicable anxiety! As it turned out, the dressmakers had been bitt en by mass hysteria.
Perhaps my favorite example of social contagion on record is the Dancing Plague of 1518 (not quite as scary sounding as Ebola or the Black Death, but more interesting). According to reports, it began when a woman in Strasbourg, France, known as Frau Troffea, started dancing in the streets and could not stop. Eventually she collapsed from exhaustion. At first people thought she had had a psychotic episode and that was the end of it. But then she started dancing again. In the next few days, thirty other people also experienced this same uncontrollable need to spastically dance. By the end, the authorities had to get involved because four hundred villagers were compulsively dancing day and night ... and not out of joy either. This was manic, desperate dancing, resulting in heart attacks and, incredibly, deaths. Frau Troffea's bizarre behavior had become wildly contagious.