Contagious or not? Turns out, you actually can catch a good mood, weight gain, kindness!
The common cold, a stomach flu, yawning—some things we all know are easy to catch. And we typically also know the best ways to avoid succumbing to them (hello, hand washing!). However, there’s more stuff that can spread from person to person—many that don’t even involve germs, but instead feelings and even physical weight! These eight weird things will redefine what you thought you knew about what you can catch from others. (Confessions of a Germaphobe: Will These Weird Habits Protect Me (or You) From Germs?)
Bundle up! Just looking at someone who is shivering can make you feel chilly, according to research in PLOS ONE. When people simply watched videos of others putting their hands in cold water, their own hands were significantly more frigid than when they watched people putting their hands in warm water. Crazy, huh? Researchers speculate that it’s connected to our inherent socialness—we’ve developed sensitivity to others’ suffering (and shivering) so that we’re more empathetic and therefore inclined to help if someone else is truly freezing.
Here’s something to smile about: When you become happy, it affects everyone around you—literally. Your boosted mood increases the chances of perking up your friend by 25 percent, your spouse by eight percent, and your next-door neighbors by 34 percent, suggests a study in Statistics in Medicine. The reason is simple: Interacting with happy people brightens your outlook, which you pass on to others, researchers say. (Need a boost? 20 Ways to Get Happy (Almost) Instantly!)
On the bummer end of the spreadable spectrum is this: Obesity is shared throughout social networks. When someone packs on pounds, it increases the chances that his or her friends, siblings, and spouses will all gain weight too, reports a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why? As more people become overweight or obese, it may shift the consensus of what’s acceptable, researchers speculate. This, in turn, could impact your own daily habits—like your likelihood of overeating—since weight gain no longer seems so taboo. (This isn't the only weird thing that affects your weight: 7 Zero-Calorie Factors That Derail Weight Loss.)
On the flip side, surrounding yourself with people who are pursuing healthier habits may boost your chances of success, the journal Obesity reports. In the study, teams of overweight and obese participants competed against each other to lose weight. Participants who lost five percent or more of their bodyweight over the 12-week long competition tended to be on the same teams, and those who reported more teammate influence were 20 percent more likely to lose a significant amount of weight. If you’re looking to boost your own health habits, you’re more likely to succeed if those around you share a common goal.
Don’t blame your kid's sweet tooth for everything—people can actually pass cavities on to others, according to researchers at the University of Louisville. Mothers with cavities can spread the tooth-decay-causing bacteria to their babies through mindless behaviors such as cleaning pacifiers in their own mouths or sharing utensils. If something goes in your mouth, try keep it out of your little one’s.
Talk about paying it forward: When subjects in a study could contribute money to others, participants who received money were more likely to give money in a subsequent trial than those who hadn’t benefitted from others’ generosity, suggests a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Thank evolution for this one: Actions that promote cooperation increased a group’s ability to survive, so we may be hardwired to want to pass the good juju on. Happily, that means that your act of kindness or donation may go even further than what you contributed. (These stars know: 8 of Our Favorite Philanthropic Female Celebrities.)
If you see someone else checking their phone, there’s a 40 percent chance you will do the same, according to a study published in Human Ethology Bulletin. When one person texts or chats with a friend, you feel excluded and are more likely to seek out social interaction through your digital device. Seeing someone on his or her phone may also remind you to check in on your e-mail or text conversations, researchers say. (Considering going cold turkey? Try these 8 Steps for Doing a Digital Detox Without FOMO.)
You already know that yawning is contagious, but did you know humans aren’t the only ones affected? Dogs yawn when they see a person do it, and they’re more likely to do so when it’s their owner they witness yawning, a study in the journal PLOS ONE reports. It’s bizarre and adorable!