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Your Co-Workers' Bad Attitudes Are Contagious, Study Says

This time of year you can easily catch all sorts of nasty sniffles from infected co-workers, but that's not the only thing you might pick up from them if recent research is correct.

Scientific studies have found that it's not just germs that spread between people -- habits and lifestyles choices can too. Obesity, for example, is obviously not infectious in the classic sense, but scientists have found that the fatter your friends get, the fatter you're likely to be. Now Harvard Professor David Rand is claiming your friends and colleagues can affect not just your waistline, but your attitude too.

Rand's study results come out of an examination of decades of data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has collected huge amounts of information on research subjects since 1948. In an interview with Lindsay Patterson for Fast Company, Rand explains how your friends and co-workers' negativity can affect your mood:

The more friends you have that are content with their lives, the more likely you are to become content. And the more friends you have that are discontent, the more likely you are to become discontent.... We found that sadness is twice as infectious as happiness.

A contagious process is something where your probability of contracting it--if it's a disease--depends on whether your friends are sick. If you think about your probability of catching the flu, the more sick friends you have the more likely you are to get the flu. That makes it contagious. So we find that same thing with happiness or sadness.

Long-term emotional states really are contagious. Which is interesting, and it's important for trying to understand why people feel the way they do about their lives.

So what's the take away? Should you ditch your cranky colleagues and get a new job or cut off those friends who turn melancholy? Not at all, according to Rand, who explains that his study only points to broad patterns and isn't designed to inform individual decisions. But knowing, as the old cartoon says, is half the battle. By being aware of how sad co-workers are likely to affect you, you can guard against the contagion. And how should you do this? "The better solution is to make your sad friends happy," says Rand.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user Y, CC 2.0)
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