Affective Presence, a Personality Trait That Measures How Easy You Are to Be Around

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I’ve known some people in my life who could walk into a room and seem to make everyone seem more comfortable simply by being there.

They didn’t even have to say or do a lot, mind you. They just had a way of putting others at ease. A calm energy, if you will.

Conversely, I’ve definitely known people who have the opposite effect on others. Who seem to set other people on edge simply by being there. Who seem like they have bad energy.

Right, right. Sounds a little woo-woo, right? All this talk of energy. Next I’ll be whipping out a Ouija board or something.

But oddly enough, this quality is something being looked at in social science research. And it has a name. It’s called a person’s affective presence.

Affective Presence and Not Just Emotional Contagion?

Affective presence was first named and explored as a personality trait in a research study about a decade ago.

The researchers wanted to see if there was something to it, this idea that people could influence the moods of others simply by being there, as a fixed personality factor as opposed to another phenomenon known as emotional contagion. It’s been well documented in the scientific literature (as well as documented in a former installment of this series) that we can be reliably affected by the moods of other people around us and start to feel as they do.

The researchers in the affective presence study wanted to make sure that this wasn’t simply what was happening in situations where someone seemed to have a generally positive presence or a generally negative one.

After controlling for emotional contagion, they did indeed find evidence of a persistent affective presence effect.

What Other Qualities Does a Person with Positive Affective Presence Have? Negative Affective Presence?

Researchers also looked at qualities that are linked with positive or affective presence and found the following:

  • Individuals with positive affective presence had “greater network centrality.” In layman’s terms, more people liked them. Hardly surprising, I suppose, since it’s not a stretch to think that people would like other people who are easy to be around. But you know, they found it.
  • More interesting are the findings re: people with negative affective presence, folks who are a drag to be around. The research found that those individuals were more likely to be low in agreeableness and more extroverted. These are both traits on the OCEAN Big Five framework.

People who are low in agreeableness don’t care much about how other people feel and don’t take a genuine interest in other people. They also tend to be very competitive and in some cases can be quite manipulative.

The extroversion is curious to me in isolation as my favorite people are a mix of extroverts and introverts, but if I think about an extroverted person who also isn’t very agreeable, meaning that they lack empathy and are manipulative and competitive, it quickly becomes understandable.

Yup, they’re a real drag to be around. Bad energy and all that. Have never met someone that way that I also liked.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – Eelke