A Study of Emotional Contagion with Virtual Characters

  • Jason Tsai
  • Emma Bowring
  • Stacy Marsella
  • Wendy Wood
  • Milind Tambe
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 7502)


In social psychology, emotional contagion describes the widely observed phenomenon of one person’s emotions mimicking surrounding people’s emotions [10]. In this paper, we perform a battery of experiments to explore the existence of agent-human emotional contagion. The first study is a between-subjects design, wherein subjects were shown an image of a character’s face with either a neutral or happy expression. Findings indicate that even a still image induces a very strong increase in self-reported happiness between Neutral and Happy conditions with all characters tested.

In a second study, we examine the effect of a virtual character’s presence in a strategic decision by presenting subjects with a modernized Stag Hunt game. Our experiments show that the contagion effect is substantially dampened and does not cause a consistent impact on behavior. A third study explores the impact of the strategic situation within the Stag Hunt and conducts the same experiment using a description of the same strategic situation with the decision already made. We find that the emotional impact returns, implying that the contagion effect is substantially lessened in the presence of a strategic decision.


Virtual Reality Strategic Decision Emotional Contagion Contagion Effect Virtual Character 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ambadar, Z., Cohn, J.F., Reed, L.I.: All smiles are not created equal: Morphology and timing of smiles perceived as amused, polite, and embarrassed/nervous. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 33(1), 17–34 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Barsade, S.G.: The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior. Administrative Science Quarterly 47, 644–675 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bem, S.L.: The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 42, 155–162 (1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bosse, T., Duell, R., Memon, Z.A., Treur, J., van der Wal, C.N.: A Multi-agent Model for Emotion Contagion Spirals Integrated within a Supporting Ambient Agent Model. In: Yang, J.-J., Yokoo, M., Ito, T., Jin, Z., Scerri, P. (eds.) PRIMA 2009. LNCS, vol. 5925, pp. 48–67. Springer, Heidelberg (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    de Melo, C., Carnevale, P., Gratch, J.: The Effect of Expression of Anger and Happiness in Computer Agents on Negotiations with Humans. In: AAMAS 2011 (2011)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Doherty, W.: The Emotional Contagion Scale: A Measure of Individual Differences. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 21(2) (1997)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dunn, J.R., Schweitzer, M.E.: Feeling and Believing: The Influence of Emotion on Trust. Psychology of Personality and Social Psychology 88(5), 736–748 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Durupinar, F.: From Audiences to Mobs: Crowd Simulation with Psychological Factors. PhD thesis, Bilkent University (2010)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gratch, J., Okhmatovskaia, A., Lamothe, F., Marsella, S., Morales, M., van der Werf, R.J., Morency, L.-P.: Virtual Rapport. In: Gratch, J., Young, M., Aylett, R.S., Ballin, D., Olivier, P. (eds.) IVA 2006. LNCS (LNAI), vol. 4133, pp. 14–27. Springer, Heidelberg (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J.T., Rapson, R.L.: Emotional Contagion. Cambridge University Press (1994)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hess, U., Philippot, P., Blairy, S.: Facial Reactions to Emotional Facial Expressions: Affect or Cognition? Cognition and Emotion 12(4), 509–531 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lundqvist, L.-O.: Factor Structure of the Greek Version of the Emotional Contagion Scale and its Measurement Invariance Across Gender and Cultural Groups. Journal of Individual Differences 29(3), 121–129 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Pereira, G., Dimas, J., Prada, R., Santos, P.A., Paiva, A.: A Generic Emotional Contagion Computational Model. In: D’Mello, S., Graesser, A., Schuller, B., Martin, J.-C. (eds.) ACII 2011, Part I. LNCS, vol. 6974, pp. 256–266. Springer, Heidelberg (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Riva, G.: Virtual Reality in Psychotherapy: Review. CyberPsychology & Behavior 8(3), 220–230 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Rizzo, A., Pair, J., McNerney, P.J., Eastlund, E., Manson, B., Gratch, J., Hill, R.W., Swartout, W.: Development of a VR Therapy Application for Iraq War Military Personnel with PTSD. In: 13th Annual Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference, Long Beach, CA. Medicine Meets Virtual Reality, vol. 111, pp. 407–413. IOS Press (2005)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Rothbaum, B.O., Hodges, L.F., Ready, D., Graap, K., Alarcon, R.D.: Virtual reality exposure therapy for vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 63(8), 617–622 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Small, D.A., Verrochi, N.M.: The Face of Need: Facial Emotion Expression on Charity Advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research 46(6), 777–787 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Tsai, J., Bowring, E., Marsella, S., Tambe, M.: Empirical Evaluation of Computational Emotional Contagion Models. In: Vilhjálmsson, H.H., Kopp, S., Marsella, S., Thórisson, K.R. (eds.) IVA 2011. LNCS, vol. 6895, pp. 384–397. Springer, Heidelberg (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Wang, N., Gratch, J.: Rapport and Facial Expression. In: ACII 2009 (2009)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Wild, B., Erb, M., Bartels, M.: Are emotions contagious? evoked emotions while viewing emotionally expressive faces: quality, quantity, time course and gender differences. Psychiatry Research 102(2), 109–124 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Wilson, T.D., Lindsey, S., Schooler, T.Y.: A Model of Dual Attitudes. Psychological Review 107(1), 101–126 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jason Tsai
    • 1
  • Emma Bowring
    • 2
  • Stacy Marsella
    • 3
  • Wendy Wood
    • 1
  • Milind Tambe
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.University of the PacificStocktonUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Creative TechnologiesUSCPlaya VistaUSA

Personalised recommendations