Here's an unbelievable (but true) story.
In an article in the Association for Psychological Science, the writer shares a story about a strange event that occurred at a Tennessee high school in 1998.
A teacher in the school noticed the smell of gas in her classroom and soon felt dizzy and nauseous. Shortly after she was whisked away by ambulance to a nearby hospital, many students and staff started feeling ill as well.
By the end of the school day, 100 people went to the emergency room with symptoms they thought were related to exposure to gas at the school.
However, the symptoms could not be explained by medical tests. In fact, even extensive environmental tests at the school concluded that no toxic source could be the cause, according to results published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
So what was up? All of these people legitimately felt ill, but why did they get sick?
The culprit wasn't a toxin, a bacteria, or a strange virus running rampant at the school. It was a phenomenon known as mass psychogenic illness. It is a documented scenario in which symptoms of an illness are passed from person to person -- but specifically among people who have seen one another. One person gets sick when they witness another person sick.
This is an extreme example of how we "catch" the feelings, symptoms, and behaviors of others simply by being around them. Though we may not be aware of it, our daily lives are filled with situations in which we infect or catch an emotion from someone else.
Psychologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists have researched this contagion and how and why it occurs, and they have learned that it appears to involve both biological and social processes. We are hard-wired for empathic feelings to a certain extent, and through our experiences and interactions with others, we learn to mimic their behaviors, both for good or ill (no pun intended).
So what are the behaviors that we tend to spread around?