Psychopathology is often studied and treated from an individual-centered approach. However, studies have shown that psychological distress is often best understood from a contextual, environmental perspective. This paper explores the literature on emotional contagion and symptom transmission in psychopathology, i.e., the complex ways in which one person’s psychological distress may yield symptoms among others in his/her close environment. We argue that emotions, cognitions, and behaviors often do not stay within the borders of the individual, but rather represent intricate dynamic experiences that are shared by individuals, as well as transmitted between them. While this claim was comprehensively studied in the context of some disorders (e.g., secondary traumatization and the “mimicking” of symptoms among those close to a trauma survivor), it was very scarcely examined in the context of others. We aim to bridge this gap in knowledge by examining the literature on symptom transmission across four distinct psychiatric disorders: PTSD, major depression, OCD, and psychosis. We first review the literature on emotional contagion in each disorder separately, and then we subsequently conduct a comparative analysis highlighting the shared and differential mechanisms underlying these processes in all four disorders. In this era of transdiagnostic conceptualizations of psychopathology, such an examination is timely, and it may carry important clinical implications.
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- Emotional contagion