Did the world’s greatest leaders have special abilities?
The new theory is based on an American study of the power of personality and the transmission of emotions and is based on historical facts. Notable personalities such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Adolf Hitler are proof of what a strong charisma can accomplish. Is it possible that some people have the ability to change the whole world?
What the scientists found
When two people speak, they engage in so-called motor mimicry. In practice it means their mimicry mirrors the other person’s expression. This applies not only to talking, but also to other types of interactions. If, for example, you show someone the image of a smiley face, they will smile slightly. If you show them a gloomy man, they will frown. If you show them a video where someone gets hurt, they will produce a grimace, although nothing has happened to them personally. Research shows that one naturally imitates others’ emotions. We usually call this empathy.
Psychologists Elaine Hatfield and John Cacioppo and historian Richard Rapson released a book called Emotional Contagion in 1994. In this book, they state that there is a way the emotions of others can influence our own. The trio goes even further and says that emotions flow not only from the inside out, but also vice versa. If we look at emotions and their “contagion” in this way, then we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: can some people influence others’ emotions and change their surroundings significantly?
As Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book The Breaking Point on the spread of social epidemics, psychologists call these personalities “transmitters”. They are a type of people who can perfectly express their feelings and thoughts and are even physiologically different. They have, for example, much more developed mimic muscles on their faces – their mimic muscles are spaced differently and may even be larger. They are, therefore, naturally more pronounced and also have a better medical predisposition to “transmit” emotions to others.
But how does this transmission work, and why are some people so influential while others just get influenced?
Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, has developed an emotional infection test that documents the ability to transmit emotions. He called it a test of affective communication. This test contains 13 questions and respondents answer questions such as whether they can sit quietly when they hear excellent dance music, touch friends when they talk to them, or if they are able to flirt openly and if they like to be the center of attention. The highest score in this test is 117 points, and the average number of points falls somewhere around 71 points. What does it mean if you score high in this test?
As Gladwell describes in his book, the psychologist Friedman conducted a fascinating experiment on this subject. He has taken several dozen people with a high score above 90 points and several dozen with a low score below 60 points. These people all completed a short questionnaire about how they felt at a particular moment. Subsequently, he divided the people into several rooms. There were always two people with a low score and one with a high score. They could see each other, but talking was not allowed. After two minutes, everyone had to fill in the questionnaire again about how they felt. The results were fascinating.
If a high-score person was depressed at the start of the experiment and a low-score, easily affected person cheerful, at the end of the experiment everyone was depressed. The ordinary, less charismatic personalities adopted the mood of the strong, charismatic personality. It did not work vice versa. If the two ordinary people in the room were sad and the charismatic one was cheerful, the bad mood did not transmit to the charismatic person.
It’s clear that there are types of personalities who, through their distinctive charisma, their mental predisposition and the power of their personality, can change the mood of the people around them.
History also confirms the theory
We don’t have to go too far to find some examples – two very significant cases are right under our noses, defining key moments of the last century. One positive and one negative.
The positive one involves Martin Luther King Jr. A strong personality who was able to express his emotions and convictions. Thanks to King’s charisma, more and more people followed his beliefs until he was finally able to start a revolution. He literally influenced huge crowds of people. Surely you have one of the many pictures in your head where King is standing on stage, speaking with people literally hanging on to his every word. Martin Luther King Jr. is a beautiful, positive example of using strong charisma to influence people and transmit emotion.
A negative but equally strong example is the German leader Adolf Hitler, whose actions launched the Second World War. His pronounced, angry speech patters and equally devastating charisma were able to transmit ideas to hundreds of thousands of people. Did Hitler “infect” crowds with his charisma and the power of his personality to compel them to do brutal things that they would not have done otherwise?
The above-mentioned research suggests that this may have been the case. With Adolf Hitler, there is also the well-established fact that he himself was very interested in various occult sciences, and he may have attempted to improve this special ability of his, if he was aware of it in some way.
Reality or fiction?
Many authors and filmmakers have played with the theme of charisma and influencing people in the past. There are plenty of self-help books on psychological coercion and empathy lining the shelves of countless bookstores. Sometimes, however, this attractive and controversial topic goes beyond fact and enters the world of fiction.
This topic was recently adopted by the young Slovak author Ivica Duricova in her debut novel The Golden Bond. She transformed the theme of charisma and emotional influence on others into the new term charismagic and linked it to the current hot topic of digital espionage, perhaps made most famous by the controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden. The novel, set in Rome, Italy, reveals an environment of charismagical secret agents and the struggle for gaining power over the flow of information for the entire world. The author’s thrilling debut achieved excellent feedback in the domestic market, accompanied by numerous five-star reviews. It has now been translated into English and was released on the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing platform world-wide, where she’s currently fighting for the Kindle Storyteller 2017 book prize.