Study Examines Three Aspects of Emotional Functioning Among Depressed

Emotional functioning contributes significantly to the severity and persistence of depressive symptoms. Individuals with major depression (MDD) have been shown to have impaired emotional regulation, high levels of negative affect (NA), and low levels of positive affect (PA). Although there have been numerous studies exploring the different aspects of emotional regulation in depressed individuals, few studies have looked at how these aspects are related to one another. To address this gap in literature, Renee J. Thompson of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University in California recently led a study designed to see how emotional inertia, emotional instability, and emotional reactivity influenced each other in individuals with MDD.

For her study, Thompson enlisted 106 adults, half of whom had been diagnosed with MDD. All of the participants were given electronic diaries and were prompted to record their levels of PA and NA and moods 8 times each day for 7 days. Additionally, the participants were instructed to also record any important events that had occurred during the study period. Thompson reviewed the findings and found that the MDD participants had significantly higher levels of emotional instability related to NA than the controls. But the levels of instability related to PA were similar in both groups. Thompson believes that this finding demonstrates the importance of treating NA instability independently of PA instability.

Thompson also found that the level of depression severity directly predicted the level of NA instability. This supports the theory that emotional instability is an extremely critical component of MDD, as evidenced in approaches such as acceptance and commitment therapy, which show that instability is directly related to negative stress-coping strategies. Other findings demonstrated an inverse relationship for instability and inertia. However, the study did reveal that emotional reactivity predicted emotional instability for both PA and NA. Recent research has shown that PA is a critical component of adaptive coping for individuals with MDD. By gathering daily data from the individuals, Thompson was better able to assess fluctuations in emotional regulation and in particular, levels of PA and NA. Thompson said that her findings broaden the field of data on emotional functioning in depression. She added, “The results of this study provide a more nuanced picture of the everyday emotional experiences of individuals with MDD.”

Thompson, R. J., Mata, J., Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., Gotlib, I. H. (2012). The everyday emotional experience of adults with major depressive disorder: Examining emotional instability, inertia, and reactivity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027978

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  • Georgia


    July 13th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    I don’t know. I look at all of these factors and I can see how there are those who have dealth with negative affect and emotional instability all of their lives and then how this also leads them to becoming depressed. For many of them all of these factors seem as if they are this tangled web of mental unhalthiness and that they struggle to break free from but never quite can.

    But for others, depression is something that can blindside you. You may feel great one week, but them it begins to slowly come on and before you know it you too are facing depression and you are left wondering why and how. I know that for most people maybe there are the early indications that depression could become an issue for them at some point in their lives; but for others, all it takes is a traumatic event or life change to put it into motion and this is another population that is also having to face the fear of depression and having their mental health turned upside down.

  • JAKE


    July 13th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Hmm,I wudve thot PA and NA would be exactly inversely proportional.But wat cud be the reason it isnt so??

  • nathan f

    nathan f

    July 14th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    There are always some people who can’t handle anything negative in life. It’s like they forget that we were not promised that life will be a smiles. They forget that it will have real ups and downs, and when they have to face the downs they can’t handle it.

  • B.Edwards


    July 14th, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    Not only is it important to let the good things in life affect you in a positive manner but it is also important to not let negative things have a negative effect.try to derive positives even from negatives and take each failure as a lesson in life!

  • Holly


    July 15th, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    from experience: it is hard to see anything positive in your life when you are depressed, everything has this tinge of gray that can’t be made bright

  • Jason Luoma

    Jason Luoma

    July 16th, 2012 at 2:02 PM


    PA and NA have been empirically shown to be relatively independent. People are able to feel two things at once, for example, you can feel both interested and angry at the same time. That would be an example of both high PA (interested) and high NA (angry) at the same time. Also, these measure aggregate responses over time and thus a person could have a tendency toward rarely experiencing happiness (low PA) and another person could have a tendency toward often experiencing happiness (hi PA). A person who alternated between periods of sadness and happiness would be classified as high PA, high NA, while a person who alternated between periods of sadness and a neutral mood would be High NA, low PA.

    That help?

  • chuck


    July 17th, 2012 at 5:16 AM

    When you’re feeling down and empty it’s really hard to get up and gather positive emotions! It’s like the more you think of your depression the more you drown into it :(

  • PDT


    December 4th, 2015 at 8:22 AM

    You will hardly come across content such as this nowadays. I remember when you could find a few topics like this in minutes but now it’s much more difficult.

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