The mere presence of Elvis Presley caused the teenage girls to scream and faint with emotion. Charismatic leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King inspired strength and serenity. The philosopher Hermann Broch, on the other hand, was one of those friendly presences with whom we feel comfortable opening up and freeing ourselves from the weight of our problems.
There are "special" people who make everyone feel at ease when they enter the room, as if by magic. Their influence calms and relaxes, conveys good vibes and enthusiasm.
Others have the opposite effect: when they get close, the nerves stiffen, we feel sore and uncomfortable, even if they don't do anything in particular and aren't in a bad mood. When they arrive, we just want to escape. In psychology, the power to influence the feelings of others is called "affective presence".
The "I" effect: each person has a unique emotional signature
The concept of affective presence was first described in 2010 by psychologists Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein, when they wondered if it was possible for some people to give off a special emotional influence that made others feel comfortable or, on the contrary, uncomfortable.
In one of their experiments, they assigned 239 college students of different nationalities to different groups of four or five members, enrolled them in the same classes for a semester, and asked them to do a project together. Then, each member of the group evaluated how the rest of the classmates had made him feel, taking into account eight different emotions: stressed, bored, angry, sad, calm, relaxed, happy and enthusiastic.
The researchers found that some people almost always generated the same sensation in others, regardless of their mood and the mood of the recipient. They indicated that "there are significant differences in the way people experience their emotions and the influence those emotions have on others." That is, beyond how we feel, we generate an emotional influence on those around us, and this was called "affective presence".
What is the affective presence?
Affective presence goes beyond simple emotional contagion, which refers to the power of letting others experience our emotional states through automatic mimicry and the synchronization of expressions and body movements.
Affective presence is an effect that we produce in others without realizing it, a sort of "affective vibration" that has the same result on all the people we relate to, making them feel good or bad, regardless of their previous mood.
While the emotional contagion refers to the transmission of emotions that we are experiencing, the affective presence is a sort of "emotional signature", a hallmark that characterizes us and that others can perceive more or less consciously.
Like the rest of personality traits, some people have a stronger affective presence than others. There are people who make us feel at ease quickly and transmit their vitality and joy while the contact with others is emotionally flat and we need more time to perceive their affective presence because it is much weaker.
Affective presence can be positive or negative. Some people leave a negative emotional imprint because they make others feel uncomfortable with their mere presence. We may feel intimidated, frightened, or belittled, even if that person hasn't attacked us directly.
Why do some people have a stronger emotional presence than others?
Affective presence could be related to the ability to regulate our emotions and those of others. More recent research conducted at the universities of Sheffield and Manchester found that people who try to improve their emotions, are empathetic and understand the emotional experiences of others, tend to have a more intense and positive affective presence.
It has also been found that the fact that these people generate that positive effect on others does not necessarily imply that they feel the same positive emotions. There are special people who have had a difficult life or have suffered psychological trauma, but are still able to generate enormous calm or convey a lot of enthusiasm.
These psychologists explain that throughout the day we experience so many "emotional flashes", be it of joy, sadness, anger, frustration ... Those emotions show themselves through our body language, facial expressions or tone of voice.
Those who have a positive affective presence are able to self-regulate so that their negative signals do not infect others; that is, they have the ability to muffle the noise of their own lives, so that others are not affected. This high level of emotional regulation would allow them to find the positive even in the most negative or unfavorable situations, so that they can convey serenity and enthusiasm.
People with a negative affective presence, on the other hand, would lack emotional self-regulation and would not develop sufficient empathy. The feeling of discomfort they transmit would be the result of giving free rein to those negative "emotional flashes" that their interlocutors unconsciously perceive.
How do you know what your "emotional signature" is?
Being aware of your emotional signature is very important. People who have a positive affective presence tend to be more successful at work, in relationships and in life as a couple. And this does not surprise us. We all like to be surrounded by people who convey positive vibes and value us.
But it is very difficult to be objective when it comes to assessing the effect we have on other people. Between the image we want to project, the one we project and the image the other receives, there is a world of transformations.
Therefore, the best way to discover your emotional signature is to listen to the feedback of others. Do they feel safe and comfortable next to you? Can they speak up or do they feel intimidated? Do you convey enthusiasm or apathy?