Evolution of emotional contagion in group-living animals

Wataru Nakahashi*, Hisashi Ohtsuki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Emotional contagion refers to an instantaneous matching of an emotional state between a subject and an object. It is believed to form one of the bases of empathy and it causes consistent group behavior in many animals. However, how this emotional process relates to group size remains unclear. Individuals with the ability of emotional contagion can instantaneously copy the emotion of another group member and can take relevant behavior driven by this emotion, but this would entail both cost and benefit to them because the behavior can be either appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation. For example, emotional contagion may help them escape from a predator but sometimes induce mass panic. We theoretically study how these two aspects of emotional contagion affect its evolution in group-living animals. We consider a situation where an environmental cue sometimes indicates a serious event and individuals have to make a decision whether to react to them. We show that, as the group size increases, individuals with the ability of emotional contagion would evolutionarily weaken their sensitivity to environmental cues. We also show that a larger group yields a larger benefit to them through such evolutionary change. However, larger group size prevents the invasion of mutants with the ability of emotional contagion into the population of residents who react to environmental cues independently of other group members. These results provide important suggestions on the evolutionary relationship between emotional contagion and group living.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar 7
Externally publishedYes


  • Collective intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Group behavior
  • Panic
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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