In social psychology, emotional contagion describes the widely observed phenomenon of one person’s emotions mimicking surrounding people’s
emotions . In this paper, we perform a battery of experiments to explore
the existence of agent-human emotional contagion. The first study is a betweensubjects 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 situation 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 decision 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.