How Do You Make Other People Feel?

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Photo: George Marks/Getty Images

If you’re lucky, you know someone who makes you feel happier just by being around them. And maybe you can also think of someone whose very presence stresses you out. The idea that certain people elicit certain emotions in those they interact with is something psychologists call affective presence, and the research is starting to suggest that the way you make others feel could be as much a part of your disposition as, say, your tendency toward optimism.  

For example, some people make others feel happy, and this is stable enough to be identified as part of what emotionally distinguishes one individual from another,” said Raul Berrios, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sheffield, who led a new study on affective presence recently published in the European Journal of Personality. For his study, Berrios recruited 40 students for a speed-dating scenario, producing a total of 134 four-minute dates. Immediately after each date, the students reported how their partner had made them feel, choosing from one of eight emotions: happy, sad, angry, enthusiastic, bored, stressed, calm, or relaxed.

After analyzing their answers, Berrios and his team found that people consistently rated certain people in the same way. “This allowed us to determine that certain emotions are consistently elicited, and — more importantly — that some people indeed tended to make other feel a certain way,” Berrios said. 

The two most common feelings that people tended to bring out in others were enthusiasm and boredom, which makes sense to Berrios, “considering that when people are looking for a potential romantic partner they pay much more attention to the degree to which they feel aroused.” He also found that people are more likely to bring out positive rather than negative emotions in others.

Each of the participants also filled out personality questionnaires, plus a survey designed to measure their emotional intelligence, and the results of these suggested that people who said they were better at regulating their own emotions tended to bring out positive feelings in those they interacted with. Extroverted and agreeable people also tended to make their dates feel good. 

Next, Berrios would like to investigate to what degree people are able to change the way they make other people feel. If affective presence is as stable as personality, then the answer will likely be that it’s possible, but not easy. And, obviously, more research needs to be done in a variety of different settings, because dating comes with its own unique set of pressures. Overall, though, the concept is a fascinating new way to think about what makes up you. “People usually believe that they are what they think, all those things that live in our very own minds,” Berrios said. “But the affective presence phenomenon suggests that we also ‘are’ what we create in others, such as certain emotions.”