Beliefs about emotional residue: the idea that emotions leave a trace in the physical environment

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Oct;101(4):684-701. doi: 10.1037/a0024102.


Drawing upon the literatures on beliefs about magical contagion and property transmission, we examined people's belief in a novel mechanism of human-to-human contagion, emotional residue. This is the lay belief that people's emotions leave traces in the physical environment, which can later influence others or be sensed by others. Studies 1-4 demonstrated that Indians are more likely than Americans to endorse a lay theory of emotions as substances that move in and out of the body, and to claim that they can sense emotional residue. However, when the belief in emotional residue is measured implicitly, both Indians and American believe to a similar extent that emotional residue influences the moods and behaviors of those who come into contact with it (Studies 5-7). Both Indians and Americans also believe that closer relationships and a larger number of people yield more detectable residue (Study 8). Finally, Study 9 demonstrated that beliefs about emotional residue can influence people's behaviors. Together, these finding suggest that emotional residue is likely to be an intuitive concept, one that people in different cultures acquire even without explicit instruction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Asia
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Culture*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Magic / psychology*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Social Behavior
  • Students / psychology
  • Thinking / physiology
  • United States
  • Young Adult