Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Strange Contagion by Lee Danial Kravetz

I picked this up because it sounded interesting! Strange Contagion is about how emotions and behaviours can spread, which is definitely not something that I thought about before.

Strange Contagion starts when Lee Daniel Kravetz moves to Palo Alto and a student from the local high school jumps in front of a train. That’s sad, but what’s scary is that students from that school started to jump/tried to jump after that trigger incident, prompting him to look into why this was happening.

To be honest the whole suicide being catching thing reminds me a lot of the film Suicide Club, but this book is nonfiction and makes a lot more sense. The author goes to talk with the leading experts in this field and takes us along with him, allowing us to learn that:

- We mirror people unconsciously

- We can catch both positive and negative behaviours and emotions

- Leaders matter. They will impact how people feel.

- On a related note, one toxic coworker can bring down an entire workplace

- We can get primed to do things: this basically means we can pick up the goals of someone else and we’ll end up thinking we thought of the goal ourselves

- While behaviours do spread like bacteria, it’s possible to interrupt the spread by training people to recognise and stop the behaviour. That’s how the Cure Violence model managed to reduce killings by 56% and shootings by 44% in Baltimore (among other success stories)

- When we ruminate, we continue to ‘infect’ ourselves

- Training ourselves to have a nuanced understanding of emotions can help us lead more emotionally healthier lives (like the other book I read!)

- We may be able to reach a ‘resistance point’ for negative viral emotions and behaviours, but eradication is unlikely.

- Community is both the cure and the means of spread.

All in all, I thought this was a very good read. I didn’t quite realise how much of an effect I could have on others, or that others could have on me. So now that I know, I have one more ‘tool’ I could use to make sense of my emotions when they threaten to overcome me.

The only thing I wish the book would add would be a summary chapter. We basically follow the author through his journey and pick up the information at the same time as him. That made it a little harder to put things together (things didn’t really merge into a whole until I started writing down the points I bookmarked), so a chapter summarising everything would have helped a lot.

I think you’d be interested in this book if you want to know more about human behaviour and what affects it. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it is an interesting look into how we can ‘catch’ feelings and behaviours from the people around us.

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