Bad vibes and good viruses

Lynne McTaggart

Last night we ran our first teleseminar on Intention, which was fantastically well-attended by people all over the world. If you missed it, we’ll be running another one soon on developing intuition, so stay tuned.
One of the questions I repeatedly receive during workshops such as last night’s is how to protect yourself from the collective negative effect and intention of a group. Why do certain groups fairly irradiate ‘bad vibes’ and others joyful ones? Why is it that when you attend certain events you are elated and yet others leave you feeling utter depressed? How can you prevent yourself from becoming ‘infected’ by it, most people ask? What kind of psychic protection do you need?
Recently I found a fascinating answer to this, in the work of Professor Sigal Barsade, who teaches management at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Transformed office
As a young graduate student, Sigal went to work one day and noticed that something fundamentally had changed – something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. There were no new employees, no change of management and no change of scenery, but she might have strayed into the wrong office, so different was the atmosphere from usual.
The general mood, usually so edgy and stressful, had completely transformed. Those who’d stared at her and barely acknowledged her before now looked up from their work and smiled. Workers who’d usually spent the entirety of every day glued to their computer screens took breaks to chat around the coffee machine.
For the whole of that blissful week, the group with whom she regularly worked was more relaxed and sociable than she’d ever thought them capable of. For the first time, she began to look forward to going to work.
The following week, the veil that seemed to have been lifted abruptly dropped. The collective mood was back to normal – tense, testy and sullen.
Barsade was confused by it all. Nothing was different about the week, and yet the whole of the office had been profoundly affected – for the worst. When Sigal cast around for an explanation, the only difference – the only variable to which she could attribute this change – was the return of a petulant co-worker from vacation.
The negative virus
Even though the woman didn’t work with Barsade’s group, so palpable was her complaining and snappish temperament that it had engulfed everyone who worked at the company, like a virus raging through the office and infecting everyone in its path.
Barsade, who was in the midst of her master degree in business at the time, began to think of this employee’s moodiness as a contagion. Perhaps it was, she thought, that people were walking ‘mood inductors’.
She decided to test what she began calling ‘the ripple effect’ of emotion by devising an ingenious experiment with students at the Business School. In her experiment, she created four groups of students, who were to act as managers assigning a pay bonus among their employees, with each manager acting as an advocate on behalf of his own team member.
The mood regulator
Unbeknownst to the students, Barsade had placed a cuckoo in the nest of each group – a drama student who was asked to act out a different amount of pleasantness and energy in each group.
The results were striking. Even though ‘Rick’ had offered identical participation in every group, each one was profoundly affected by his moods and, what’s more, the members of each group responded in kind.
When Rick was upbeat, so was that particular group; when he exuded pessimism and negativity, his bad mood infected every other member of the group and they were less likely to cooperate with each other. When he was calm and happy, the group was more likely to bond and work with each other productively.
The effect was not only insidious, but also completely unconscious. Even when the separate groups filled out questionnaires, all attributed their own effectiveness within the group to other factors — never to collective mood.
Rick’s effect on each group also extended to all encounters he had with group members on campus in subsequent months. Those with whom he’d acted positively greeted him warmly; those in groups in which he’d been the group pessimist continued to greet him hostilely or with chilly silence.
Positive is more contagious
Barsade made another fascinating discovery, however: Rick’s positive moods were more socially contagious than his bad moods, and were more likely to act like a giant virus, overwhelming the group. In fact, when Rick was in his positive state, the group actually gave him more money than he’d asked for.
Barsade concluded that both kinds of emotion – positive and negative – are contagious, but that positive emotions are the more powerful and stimulate others to be more cooperative.
Emotions are virulent viruses. Almost immediately our emotions infect others; elements in our brains and bodies immediately begin to copy theirs. (If you don’t believe this, try to resist smiling when someone — even a newscaster on TV — smiles at you.)
During a recent study in which participants listened to a speech read by an actor, alternately using happy, unhappy or neutral inflections of speech, when the participants were asked to rate their own emotional states, in every instance, their own emotions matched those of the speaker while he was reading the speech.
Furthermore, when they were asked provide their attitude toward the speaker, they were least fond of the speaker with the unhappy voice.
An ugly mood
I was witness to the power of emotional contagion at a conference we once ran in London. During question time, a member of the audience began to heckle one of our speakers, who had made a number of fascinating, but controversial points.
Almost immediately the mood turned very ugly, and the entire audience took it in turns to verbally attack the speaker. The collective mood, formerly so positive, had been thoroughly hijacked.
These were early days in my speaking career, and as master of ceremonies, I wasn’t sure how to restore audience confidence or order.
I picked up the microphone, went back to the initial questioner’s question, politely but firmly defended our speaker from attacks and went back to address the unfair methodology of the heckler.
Then, to try to dispel the icy silence, the speaker and I jointly told a joke, giving everyone our widest smiles. Order and confidence were immediately restored, the mood had lifted and at the break, the heckler approached our speaker to apologize.
Perhaps the best antidote to negativity is not protection at all, but examining it from the perspective of relationship. Rather than reacting to negativity, simply start your own virus — a contagion of good will.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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33 comments on “Bad vibes and good viruses”

  1. I didn't consciously understand why, until reading this, that I naturally "seeded" my group events by inviting at least a few extremely positive people to join.
    Very reinforcing to hear that the positive vibe is more powerful than the negative one, too!
    Thanks for a great post, Lynne. You are always a treat to read!

  2. I agree with the fact that some people have the ability to make a group or another person happy or unhappy, but I've also found (and tried) to prepare myself when I know I'm going to meet one of those annoying persons by thinking I have a shield of light and that this person will not affect my shield, and it has worked!

  3. I recently was fired from job as a server for le pain
    Quotidiem. I feel for being postive We had a change of mangement. Our former manger provide a environment that was happy joyful and
    compassion and sercurity. The Mangers stlye was of bullying, destructive and fear. I try to keep our once postive family environment going but fail. After reading your article I felt a joy I am going to use that method at on next adventure ! Thank you

  4. Now here's something I needed to be reminded of. I've been feeling quite down and people have been noticing. What I'd forgotten was that I was also affecting them with my negative mood.
    Next week I shall try (or at least pretend) to be cheerful and see what happens. Maybe my shop sales will even improve.
    =) Thanks Lynne
    PS: Tried to send an email to Lynne last week but it got returned. My bad mood too perhaps? (The e-mail was positive though).

  5. I always love what you uncover and write about because it's such great food for thought.
    I wonder what all of this says about someone in a group who is projecting a "fake" happy energy? I have an old friend who uses an extremely "fake" happy personality when she is around people. She is attractive, uses a too wide smile, speaks kind of loud and has an over-the-top exuberance in her up-energy. I know she is trying to present herself as a high energy person who is very happy but a lot of people are put off by her.
    My other friends find her do not like to be around her even though she is projecting this over the top happiness, she makes them feel uncomfortable.
    Even though it was difficult, I had to stop including her in social events with my other friends because her high fake energy along with the over the top vibration of her personality was making people uncomfortable.
    So, I do believe that people can become uncomfortable by a person (even if they are well intended) who is using a fake happy energy which is in the very high range of vibration of personality.
    Is it because these people are forcing a happy personality and not really authentically happy that makes people uncomfortable? I could never figure out what was going on but it did become obvious to me, that everyone else I knew did not want to be around her and at times, it overwhelmed me as well because I'd be physically tired after being with her.

  6. I too was recently "let-go" from a job that I had thoroughly enjoyed. The change of management was to that of extreme bullying, heckling and even name calling in public. The people that are left behind are beyond miserable, and of course, no one trusts anyone else.

  7. I have followed Lynne since the earliest days of What Doctors Don't Tell You, when I first admired her courage in standing up publicly for her beliefs. She has grown exponentially since then and I am more proud of her than ever before. Having attended several of her seminars, I can vouch for the high standard of content and their excellent delivery. Anyone who seeks truth cannot fail to be impressed by this visionary. A Nobel Prize should have the name of Lynne McTaggart carved upon it some day soon ....

  8. Kate - your friend is faking positive, you are 100% correct.
    She has captured the emotion of happiness and is now displaying it like one might a small pet.
    Emotions are not meant to be consistently experienced and never change. You know this, you friends know this, we all know this, so she is kidding herself. Worse still, she thinks she is kidding you.
    There are other studies on group dynamics around that also show interesting results. I know of one Masters thesis on group dynamic, where this phenomena Lynne describes, was demonstrated at work. Groups where members were allowed to pick on their perceived weakest person, FAILED to reach their desired targets in more than 90% of the experiments.

  9. I love the evidence that goodwill is more contagious than negativity. This seems to be more proof that we are wired for cooperation and harmony. Reminds me of the inspiring data made possible by the HeartMath Institute and the more playful, equally inspiring book, Pronoia by Rob Brezsny.

  10. Hi All and Lynne
    I am really excited by this as I am all Lynne's blogs. I want so much to be able to have conversations with people similarly interested (or excited).
    There is a great new network that is ideal for groups such as the one answering this post which is terrific -
    It is designed for group communication with a view to action. So it's called a social action network.
    Just as the head of Sony specified the Walkman for his own use and Jobs specified Keynote for his own use as well as the iPod - this network has been specified by the designers as they think and know is ideal.
    I am keen to start an Intention Group on this network so that I can participate in several conversations at once about something important like this.
    I would prefer to have Lynne start the group and the more who join the less of an overhead it is for the leader of the group in time. It also has a unique few features like a press release alert and an alert system better than Social median and even google alerts.
    I could go on. I am thrilled with it and already chase people off skype on to So Act so I can see what's going on really easily.
    All this came of me being excited enough to want to discuss intention with others and being inspired by the comments here. I hope people will forgive this diversion - I just can't see another way to get through to Lynne who will find it SOOO useful.
    Oh the url is - and they don't ask for birthdays etc. I joined a week ago and loving it
    Warm regards and thanks to all for a great blog and comments
    Jackie Mackay

  11. Amazed that we continue to find one another and understand the reality of our world.
    I think many of us can completely identify with the emotional sabotage that negative energy does to group dynamics. while attending AIS, I remember coming into the class room and automatically feeling suffocated. After talking to the group we found out where (who) the negative emotion originated from. Once identified I could manually override the initial wave of negative emotion. I figured this out a long time ago, when I discovered I could "feel" what the other people were feeling. Whether it be anger, sadness, fear, chaos ... especially the negative emotions were broadcast at what felt like a very LOUD decibel.
    It is amazing to see how we are all naturally collecting / gathering. We are ALL connected through our spirit and human existence.
    We send positive thoughts for universal healing!

  12. Phenomenal help in deciding how to be. I think a bit of knowledge on the "law of Attraction" combined with what I have just read, will definitely help me "pre-pave" my days better. I will choose to be in a happy , loving mood, every day of my life, and I will only meet people that will reflect my inner state...And any one who is let go from a job where the mood is negative should truly be joyful. Loving oneself which I think is the most important aspect of one's life prohibits staying in any abusive relationships. However we should keep in mind that we create everything including the abuse, and the way to uncreate it is to bless it. After reading Masuro Emoto's book I now have love sessions with myself where I spend time loving every part of my body. I don't think I will ever be sick again until the day I decide to depart from the earth.
    Life is truly a box of chocolates . mmmm

  13. Excellent observations. I know when someone comes into the room, be it at home or office, who is in a bad mood, the whole energy of the place darkens. Once they are gone, the room seems to lighten up.
    Same thing with someone coming into the room in a great mood. Everything picks up. Never thought how the positive is more powerful before. Excellent observations!

  14. Estoy muy feliz,leyendo y conectandome con gente que busca,lo intangible,muy bueno y suerte para Todos en el Proyecto de La Intencion,quisiera que llegara el horario para la Intencion del 5 de Diciembre,para Buenos Aires Argentina

  15. Donna Eden offers many excellent energy medicine techniques for insulating your self against others' negativity. I love the "Zip Up" in particular. I never speak in public anymore without running through her 5 minute energy routine. I speak better, my students learn better, and everyone seems happier.

  16. I also agree that positive is more contagious, but for positive energy to motivate a large section or a community, a critical mass has to be reached.
    The positive thoughts become a powerful medium to change the mind set of a particular group or cimmunity, when a critical mass say 10 -20 or more people start thinking alike.
    Once a core group starts thinking positively, the rest will surely follow. This I have experienced in the construction of our masjid in my city.
    The project was languishing for quite some time, but one prime mover, did not deter and slowly and surely, he managed to bring others around, to his positive way of thinking, that yes it can be achieved, no matter whatever, the impediments.
    To my surprise, the community gathered around and gelled together like never before. Impediments started to melt.
    I want to know what is the critical mass, how we figure that out.

  17. The invisible connection between all members of a group/species is more verifiable now than it was a few years ago.
    Scientists report that when atoms within a molecule align in a certain way and a critical mass number is reached, the rest of the atoms spontaneously, line up the same way. (Ref: Nick Herbert’s ‘ Quantum Reality’ F. Capra’s ‘ The Tao of Physics – Lewis Thomas’s ‘ The lives of Cells’ are a few books, that establish the connection between – the principles of physics and a ‘collective consciousness’

  18. Thank you Anne for a wonderful and thought provoking blog.Certain egocentric individuals do unknowingly, and sometimes intentionally, try to influence the group mind for there own ends.These individuals should have our compassion and understanding.Losing the lonely perspective of the isolated individual and adopting the collective viewpoint will lead to a more inclusive,harmonious, and positive reaction to others and the misfortunes that can blight our lives.Negative,unrestrained and uncontrolled emotions will only serve to isolate an individual further. May truth and compassion be with us all.

  19. Well Lynn, it sounds like your audiences are mostly made up of sheeple. The kind who would do anything to anyone as long as they thought it was their job, in other words, getting paid. Horrible. Do you actually expect to get anywhere with those kind. Good Luck

  20. Have none of you noticed how the political parties have used the methed of planting people that are there just to change the mood,direction,and outcome of speeches and other gatherings, This has been done as far back as biblical times. Just be awake and watch next time you are in a situation where there is an agenda. Great information Lynn Thanks. And remember everyone you can be the one to make the difference.

  21. Interesting conversation here. I wonder though, I have to respond to Kate's take on "fake happiness"... there is a possibility that she is genuinely happy and those she is interacting with, are not...thus, this opposition is created and she is being repulsed by the bigger energy...or rather, found to be repulsive to the group. What is the course for this woman? Maybe she is 'faking it till she makes it"...but I think the possibility is at least equal that she is truly happy where she is and thus repulsing the group which may be opposite to her energy.

  22. That's an amazing thing to be able to verify in an experiment.
    I tend to feel the energy of other people, and have noticed that other people's emotions can sometimes infect me.
    I've also noticed that at interacting with certain people, I feel completely drained of energy.
    I wonder what'd happen if I set an intention for them to be in a good mood when I have to deal with them.

  23. Malynda--I wrestled with this situation and it was that her fake happiness persona was due to the fact that she was trying too hard to impress my friends. They were my friends, not hers and she wanted to be included in my social life so, she was creating this high energy happy persona to impress them.
    I am sure she read that this is the way to impress people or something because she was not like that when we were alone together and in fact she could be very critical about other people.
    People can be authentically happy, positive and also low key and others will find them interesting. I felt she was using a fake happiness force to force her way into my social life and make friends but it just did not work.

  24. Lynn : This sounds so much like the intentions that we take on a global basis while sending reiki (being a reiki master myself) to heal the world of the negatives and giving a positive energy boost to all that is positive and good. These intentions definitely work and I have seen them work at my workplace too where every morning i keep an intention that the atmosphere will be positive and upbeat and all the work i take up would be completed fully.....and it always works !!

  25. HELP!! In Lynne's Living with intention film she speaks of the people where 1/2 of each family was killed to destroy the lives and will of the other half. WHO PREFORMED THIS HEALING? and how do we get more information on this? Also there is the healer that gave the dieing woman drops of something. Who is she and how do we contact her??

  26. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in a happier state of mind and body during the past year or so; more than ever before in my life.
    Recently, however, I allowed myself to get very angry about a situation. As I used to live a very angry and cynical existence, the feelings of anger flooded back to me like a long lost friend.
    The interesting thing about working through this anger was how uncomfortable it felt. The old friend was now an unwanted intruder, and it didn’t have the same resilience or impact it used to on my psyche.
    What I did notice though, was that over the next few days I had a heightened sense of aggravation, and a lot of little things were very irritating to me. Again, this was how I used to live but it didn’t feel good anymore. It’s now been five days since the experience, and I now feel back to my new, normal self.
    My philosophy strives to put the decision as to how we experience life in the hands of the individual, so we are responsible for how we act, think, speak and feel.
    The power of intention composes one of the foundations of this philosophy, and I was amazed at how quickly the Cosmic Soup served me up negative experiences as soon as I put my personal negativity out there.
    If we each can learn to better control ourselves, we can more easily provide a barrier to the negative effect of others.
    The negative vibes can be controlled through practised thought.
    Write On!

  27. Hi everyone, thanks Curtis, #28, I myself am on a daily undertaking, with self. Sometimes it feels like I never move. Thanks for sooo much right now on , well, getting there, to identify this feeling of being so off balance. I really appreciate the encouragement. Peace and Love to everyone.

  28. Two comments:
    First--Yes, It's "Rick's" responsibility to be aware of his positive or negative energy and how it's affecting a group. But it's just as equally everyone else in the group's responsibility to have strong enough boundaries to not be adversely affected by "Rick's" energy. Dr. Paul's ( Mind OS program gives an excellent explanation of how to have strong boundaries to keep negative energy away. He describes the boundary as having doors with knobs on the inside, however, so that YOU can choose to open the door to let positive energy in.
    Second--I believe that one common goal could be to teach the entire group to avoid both positive AND negative energy. Both positive and negative evaluations are coming from a place of Ego. I believe that if our goal is Presence, both positive and negative should be avoided; we focus on just the description, not the evaluation. Just Being. I actually just wrote a blog about this, which will be posted in the morning. The website is above if you'd like to read more.
    Love & Light,

  29. I would like to have everyone keep in their intentions, my dear nephew who is going through health problems, the doctors have found a large mass on his brain, they will operate, and I hope everyone could send many blessings to the doctors, the family, and of course Matthew, I send love and prayers to everyone. much gratitude, and peace

  30. The following is a paraphrase from a talk Lynne gave on Women on the Edge of Evolution. As soon as I heard it, I was so excited, I dropped everything to capture the words. I have wanted to hear this for sooo long. It puts my experience into words. Thank you Lynne. Would love to know what this brings up for others.
    "the idea of walking around in a psychic bubble is completely antithetical to the idea of us all being one...most of the negativity emanates from within us as individuals, so if we change our own state then we change the people around us...become conscious of what we are sending out all the time...what our thoughts are and then where we would like to be...going back to that all the time, of our ideal purpose and holding that thought alot more and that can also can move us out of that negative space"

  31. This article and experience is further proof to me that committees never make decisions. One person on the committee makes a decision and conveniences all others on the committee to go along. This is especially true in juries. Many people have been wrongly convicted or found innocent because someone on the jury/committee made a decision. We have to be alert at all times in groups to this important influence. Thanks for the article. I learned a great deal.

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