101 year old Rosa Camfield’s picture (seen here) holding her newborn great-granddaughter instantly went viral across social media pages. Camfield died March 30, 2015 just after creating an internet legacy. The picture was posted by Camfield’s granddaughter, Sarah Hamm, mother of the baby pictured. It did not take long for the photo of the intergenerational duo to take storm on the internet. Just two days after posting the picture, Hamm, was shocked to realize how widespread the picture of her grandmother and daughter had become. Not only was this touching picture going viral, but it seemed to be motivating people to share intergenerational pictures of their own families. Some shared pictures spanning five generations in one family. Camfield had unknowingly left a legacy that brought thousands of people back to their family roots and compelled them to share their own intergenerational connections.
The Psychology of Evoking Emotions Through Photos
The internet response to Camfield holding her great-granddaughter demonstrates the power of pictures to evoke emotion within human beings. What is it about pictures that can evoke such emotion? The sight of the oldest old generation, as well as newborns, creates an instant response of love and connection within our minds. Individuals on each end of life spark the parts of the brain that function to love, to help, and to honor. The image of a sweet elderly woman combined with an adorable newborn induced positive emotions of joy and love in thousands of brains. Such emotions also evoke a desire for human connection, which is further supported not only by Camfield’s viral photo, but also the subsequent sharing of thousands of intergenerational family photos on social media.
The compulsion of thousands of people to share Camfield’s photo can be further explained through the lens of Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build model of positive emotions. Fredrickson’s model proposes that the induction of emotions such as joy, contentment, and love can momentarily broaden and promote interest in one’s environment through exploration and interpersonal relationships. Once positive emotions are established, Fredrickson's model also proposes people will go into an "upward spiral" in attempt to maintain the positive emotions by attending to other stimuli that might evoke such joy, contentment, or love.
When each individual viewed Camfield holding her great-granddaughter, it most likely evoked some form of positive emotions within them. These positive emotions then generated a response and desire in each of these viewers to connect or re-connect with their environment and interpersonal connections. Camfield and her great-granddaughter’s tender moment had ignited a return to people’s own interpersonal connections in attempt to maintain the positive emotions of joy and love.
The Intergenerational Connection
The psychology of family systems spans decades of research and practice in understanding how families operate. Within families their are numerous dynamics in relationships between each individual member and a outer dynamic that keeps the family system alive. One interesting foundations to family systems is understanding intergenerational connections. More than just a parent and child, but relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Now with individuals in the Western world living longer than ever before, the intergenerational connection can allow an older adult to meet their great-great grandchild. The positive emotions from photos of loved ones is further enhanced by feelings of nostalgia that are often evoked through such intergenerational photos. Nostalgia is a feeling of warmth and comfort from the reminiscence of past events. A person need not remember the picture being taken for a sense of nostalgia to be induced. The mere sight of past times with older family members provides a sense of belonging and comfort for most individuals.
Camfield was able to hold her newly born great-granddaughter before she passed away, and it was the very sight of that momentary connection that led others to recognize and want to honor their own intergenerational connections. Human beings have an inherent desire to know where they come from. Having the opportunity through intergenerational connection to learn about one’s family history spanning back centuries can often help individuals explore their own identities and purpose in life.
Camfield’s Impact on Thousands
While Camfield’s picture is one of many that have gone viral, she has managed to leave a legacy that may have impacted lives in ways unknown. Camfield and her great-granddaughter evoked a sense of joy, love, and connection in the people sharing her photo, which reminded people to return to their roots and consider the impact of interpersonal connection on their own development and well being. Intergenerational connections can have a powerful impact in creating a sense of belonging and helping individuals who may be experiencing confusion in identity, loneliness, or depression. While Camfield’s great-granddaughter will not get to grow up to know Camfield, this photo established a connection between the two that will live on with Camfield’s great-granddaughter. Using intergenerational photos to honor generations that may no longer be alive will evoke the emotions that can serve to reaffirm people’s sense of hope. The induction of such positive emotions can have a powerful impact on promoting interpersonal connection, meaning, and psychological well being.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of general psychology, 2(3), 300.
Pelletiere, N. (2015). 101 Year Old Great Grandmother In Heartwarming Viral Photo Dies. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/101-year-grandmother-heartwarming-viral-photo-dies/story?id=30030176
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