Re: Emotional Contagion and the Memetic Stance

Paul Marsden (
Tue, 1 Sep 1998 17:19:35 +0100

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Emotional Contagion and the Memetic Stance
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 17:19:35 +0100

>It seems to me that (a) the fact that this kind of thing does
>happen, and (b) that it can be viewed as a form of behavioural
>contagion, are uncontroversial. What I'm less clear about is
>the relationship between this and memetics. Any comments?
>- --
>Robin Faichney

Yes, you are correct; this is an example of contagion, but the relation
between this and memetics will depend on who you ask (there are two emerging
conceptualisations). First the easy bit, social scientists usually break
contagion down into behavioural and emotional types, although research has
shown how emotional contagion is mediated by behaviour, and is thus a subset
of behavioural contagion. Two processes operate here: 1)Our tendency to
synchronise body language acts back on our emotional states (research has
shown how this has been used to enhance door-to-door sales techniques) and
2) Our associative mental map means that words can cue emotional responses
via verbal behaviour.

As to the relationship between this and memetics, what you described is
instructions (memory units, or whatever is the current definitional flavour
of the month for a meme) must be mediated by behaviour (see Derek
Gatherer's latest JOM article, for an analysis of the thought contagion
metaphor.) this is all memetics. This is also consistent with the Oxford
English Dictionary definition of a meme as a unit of imitation. From this
perspective the relationship between memetics and behavioural contagion is
that of two sides of the same coin but with memetics bringing to the table
an evolutionary dimension absent in contagion theory, and a stance that
takes a representational theory of mind from the perspective of the
representations themselves. When behaviour cannot be explained rationally
from the individual level, then much of it can be understood from the
memetic level or stance.

However if you take the line of the of the alternative paradigm (Lynch for
example) as internal units of memory CONTRA units of imitation, then
memetics has little to do with contagion research (although it might not be
incompatible). For what it is worth I think that Lynch is mistaking a
useful heuristic device for the actual workings of our brain. Memetics is a
stance at the moment, and I think a very useful one. Taking the memetic
stance is can help understand behaviour NOW, and one day it might just
possibly (although I doubt it) help understand the mechanics of internal
brain activity.

I hope this answers your question, here are some references if you want to
follow this up and all things being equal, there should be a JoM paper

Social Contagion and Memetics: Two Sides of the Same Coin? being published

Levy, D.A., & Nail, P.R. (1993) Contagion: A theoretical and empirical
review and reconceptualization. Genetic, Social and General Psychology
Monographs 119, 235-183.

Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J.T. and Rapson, R.L. (1993) Emotional Contagion.

Rodgers, J.L. & Rowe, D.C. (1993) Social contagion and adolescent
sexual-behavior - a developmental EMOSA model. Psychological Review 100, 3,

Marsden, P.S. (forthcoming) Social Contagion and Memetics: Two Sides of the
Same Coin? Either JOM or Sociological Research Online.

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279

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