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10 Examples of Social Contagion

Social contagion is the spontaneous spread of emotions and behaviors through groups. This doesn't include the effects of deliberate influencing such as leadership or propaganda. Some definitions of social contagion expand the concept to include the spontaneous spread of ideas through a group. The following are illustrative examples of social contagion.

Herd Behavior

The tendency for people to follow groups without thinking much. For example, a group that rush for the same exit in an emergency without realizing that other exits exist.


Swarming is the ability of groups to act in coordination without any apparent communication. In humans this is greatly influenced by culture. For example, crowds in Japan typically self-organize to walk on the left because people drive on the left in Japan such that it feels intuitive.


A tendency to look to others when you don't know what to do. For example, students in an art class who begin to copy each other after they fail to understand the directions provided by the instructor.


Unintentionally mimicking the behavior of someone else. For example, subconsciously beginning to copy the accent of someone in conversation.


The ability to feel what you imagine someone else is feeling. For example, an audience that breaks into tears in a film.

Moral Panic

An fear of a perceived moral decline that can drive excessive behavior by groups. For example, in the 1950s there was a moral panic in the United States about the influence of comic books on youth that sparked comic book burning events and a series of Senate hearings. This forced the comic book industry to form what was essentially a censorship board to avoid government regulation.

Mass Hysteria

Outbreaks of mass illness that have no apparent cause such that they are assumed to be psychogenic (a product of the mind). For example, outbreaks of involuntary dancing known as Choreomania in Europe between the 14th and 17th century whereby groups of people would spontaneously dance until exhausted or injured.

Madness of Crowds

The theory that people are willing to drop their values, principles and logic to follow a crowd resulting in terrible behavior by large groups.


The spontaneous ability of groups to establish and enforce an ideology using social penalties for "wrong" thinking. This behavior can spread rapidly over a group whereby people become self-appointed enforcers of the groupthink.

Collective Effervescence

A feeling of elation and connectedness that can occur as a result of participating in group activities such as a concert. Groups are described as having a shared mood whereby an emotion spreads and is shared by a large number of individuals based on shared experience.
Overview: Social Contagion
Definition (1)
The spontaneous spread of emotions, moods and behaviors through groups.
Definition (2)
The spontaneous spread of emotions, behaviors and ideas through groups.
Related Concepts

Social Behavior

This is the complete list of articles we have written about social behavior.
Attitude Toward People
Bandwagon Effect
Community Behavior
Devils Advocate
Difficult Behaviors
Digital Social Life
Formal Situations
Group Attitudes
Group Behavior
Group Dynamics
Group Polarization
Interpersonal Relationships
Life Attitudes
Passive Aggressive
Personal Relationship
Social Accomplishments
Social Aspects
Social Belonging
Social Character
Social Conformity
Social Connections
Social Contagion
Social Context
Social Customs
Social Development
Social Interests
Social Psychology
Social Things
Social Traits
Social Validation
Status Seeking
Super Ego
Theory Of Mind
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