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Determinants of emotion dynamics in daily life.

People differ markedly in terms of how their moods and emotions fluctuate over time. One central feature of affect dynamicsknown as emotional inertiais the degree to which affective states carry over from moment-to-moment, as captured by their autocorrelation. Heightened emotional inertia, particularly of negative affect (NA), has been linked with low well-being and increased vulnerability to depression. However, emotional inertia remains poorly understood: little is known about the processes underlying emotional inertia or how inertia relates to other measures of affect dynamics. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to filling this gap in our knowledge by investigating how internal and external factors are related to emotional inertia, focusing particularly on the autocorrelation of NA. 
Before tackling the main aim of the thesis, we first set out to independently replicate the association between NA inertia and low well-being. In Chapter 0 we report a prefatory replicationstudy correlating NA inertia with a broad range of well-being measures.This study replicates and extends upon previous findings linking heightened NA inertia with low well-being, and in particular with elevated depressive symptoms.
We then turned our attention to the role of internal factors (i.e., the use of emotion regulation) in heightened emotional inertia. In Chapter 1 we report two studies examining the association between NA inertia and habitual rumination. Trait rumination was positively related to higher inertia of both subjective feelings (Study 1) and behavioral expressions (Study 2) of NA. Although rumination and inertia were positively correlated, both were uniquely associated with increased depressive symptoms in a sample of healthy undergraduates (Study 1) and in a sample of clinically depressed and non-depressed adolescents (Study 2). 
In Chapter 2 we report two studies examining how emotional inertia relates to two other forms of emotion regulation, expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal. Suppression, both habitual (Study 1)and experimentally instructed (Study 2), was related to increased inertia of NA behavior. Reappraisal showed the opposite trend, although the findings were less consistent across studies. However, neither reappraisal nor suppression were associated with the inertia of subjective feelings.
Next, we investigated the role of external factors (i.e., exposureand responding to emotional events) in relation to emotional inertia. In Chapter 3 we report a correlational study investigating how individualdifferences in NA inertia are related to exposure, reactivity, and recovery from emotional events in daily life and in the lab. Our most consistent finding was that NA inertia, assessed either in the lab at a timescale of minutes or in daily life at a timescale of hours, was related to impaired recovery from negative stimuli. We also found that higher NA inertia in daily life was related to exposure to more intense negative events.
In Chapter 4 we report an experimental study investigating the effect of anticipatory social stress on within-person changes in NA inertia. Relative to normal daily life, NA inertia decreased in the several hours preceding a social stressor. However, this decrease was greater for individuals with higher depressive symptoms, fear of negative evaluation, or lower self-esteem (i.e., people with increased sensitivity to social-evaluative threat).
Finally, to situate the current findings within the broader literature on affect dynamics in depression, we examined how NA inertia is related to depressive symptoms within the context of other global measures of affect dynamics. In Chapter 5 we report a study examining how NA inertia, measured at the timescale of minutes in the lab versus a timescale of hours in daily life, is related to depressive symptoms, while also controlling for dependencies with other measures of affect dynamics. Results showed that both measures of NA inertia correlated with elevated depressive symptoms. However, after controlling for mean level and variability (i.e., SD) of NA, only NA inertia measuredat a short timescale in the lab was associated with depressive symptoms.
We conclude that between-person differences in NA inertia appear tobe primarily related to impaired recovery from negative events, and regulation styles associated with poor NA recovery (i.e., rumination, expressive suppression). However, NA inertia is not constant within-persons and may differ as a function of contextual factors and the timescale at which it is measured.
Date:1 Oct 2009  →  30 Sep 2015
Keywords:Emotion dynamics, Emotion, Emotion regulation, Emotional reactivity, Individual differences, Maladjustment, Well-being, Personality
Disciplines:Applied psychology
Project type:PhD project