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that revolution could take place.
Social mechanisms
Psychological mechanisms are only part of the story, because people do not make decisions
or develop emotions on their own; they do it through interaction with other people. To
understand those interactions we need social mechanisms for the modes of interaction that
can lead to the transmission of cognitions and emotions from one person to another:
One of the most basic ways of transmitting information neurologically is mirror neurons,
where you see something happening in someone else and you end up with the same kind
of neural firings in your brain that would be happening if you were doing it yourself.
“The smell of fear” is not only a metaphor: people who are afraid produce different
kinds of molecules in their sweat, and when other people perceive that, they are more
likely to be afraid.
At a more psychological level is emotional contagion, where you pick up on the
emotions of others. One way in which that can happen is through mimicry. Your brain
develops emotions partly by taking in signals from your face, so if your mother said
“Put on a happy face,” she was right that it can actually lead you to be happier. People
do this not merely individually, but also socially.
Interaction rituals are important in religion or in the army. People march together, sing
together, or stand up and sit down together, becoming attuned to each other emotionally
in another kind of emotional contagion.
Attachment-based learning is an idea from Marvin Minsky (2006) that we tend to
acquire the emotions of people who teach us and to whom we are attached, such as
parents or religious leaders.
Empathy and emotional analogy also contribute to emotional transmission. One kind of
empathy is fundamentally physiological, as in mirror neurons; the other is more
cognitive, where you think your way into somebody else’s position by imagining how
you would feel if you were in their shoes, in a kind of emotional analogy that can also
lead you to acquire new emotions.
Altruism and sympathy transfer emotions, when you adopt some of the emotions of
people you care about.
Emotional cuing is a more complicated social process where what someone else is doing
can actually put you in a different emotional state. If somebody is really angry at you,
you may feel guilty because you are sensitive to social situations.
Power is often used to transmit emotions. One way people get emotional power over
others is by having rewards to offer them to make them feel good, so they affiliate with
you to gain the rewards. The other way is fear, where you make people think that if they
don’t do what you want, you’re going to make something awful happen to them.