Emotional contagion in nonhuman animals: A review

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2022 Jan;13(1):e1560. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1560. Epub 2021 May 5.


Emotional contagion, the emotional state-matching of an individual with another, seems to be crucial for many social species. In recent years evidence on emotional contagion in different animal species has accumulated. However, despite its adaptative advantages and its presumed simplicity, the study and direct demonstration of this phenomenon present more complexities than previously thought. For these reasons, a review of the literature on emotional contagion in nonhuman species is timely to integrate current findings. In this paper thus, we carry out a comprehensive review of the most relevant studies on emotional contagion in animals and discuss the main problems and challenges of the field. We conclude that more research is needed to broaden our understanding of the mechanisms and functions of emotional contagion and the extent to which this process is present in a wide variety of species. Furthermore, the comparative study of emotional contagion would benefit from the use of systematized paradigms including both behavioral and physiological measures and the simultaneous recording of the responses of the interacting individuals to reliably assess an emotional state-matching between them and reliable controls. This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition Psychology > Comparative Psychology Psychology > Emotion and Motivation.

Keywords: animal emotional empathy; comparative psychology; emotional contagion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior