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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