How Does Anticipated Social Stress Affect Emotional Inertia?

Emotional inertia is a term used to describe a person’s emotional state from one moment to another. Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the University of Leuven in Australia sought to see if people of varying stress sensitivities have different levels of emotional inertia. They wanted to determine if people who were more vulnerable to threats of self-evaluation, particularly people with low self-esteem, fear of negative evaluations and depression, were more likely to feel anxious when they experienced daily social stress. The participants, 79 people who were recruited from the university website, were measured for feelings of anxiety at baseline. They were given a device that prompted them to record their feelings throughout the two day study. On the first day, the participants completed several tests that gauged their level of anxiety and stress and then went about their day. On the second day, the participants were told they would be completing an extremely demanding task at the end of the day, and again were released and instructed to record their feelings when prompted. After completing the task, the test subjects were again evaluated.

The research revealed that the participants who had low self-esteem and feelings of negative self-evaluation or depression experienced higher emotional inertia on the first day. “However, when anticipating a socially stressful event, levels of emotional inertia dropped, particularly among participants scoring high on depression and fear of negative evaluation and low on self-esteem,” said the researchers. They explained by saying, “A number of possible mechanisms may account for the larger decrease in emotional inertia observed among more vulnerable participants during the anticipation of a social stressor. As mentioned earlier, lower inertia may be the result of ineffective emotion regulation. Given the limited coping resources available to psychologically vulnerable individuals, their attempts to regulate their threat emotions when anticipating a stressor may have been short-lived, resulting in more frequent emotional fluctuations. Depression, in particular, is known to involve substantial emotion regulation impairments. They concluded, “These results demonstrate that emotion dynamics can vary as a function of contextual factors and identify moderators of such variation.”

Koval, P., & Kuppens, P. (2011, July 25). Changing Emotion Dynamics: Individual Differences in the Effect of Anticipatory Social Stress on Emotional Inertia. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024756

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • ginger


    August 5th, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    And one thing that I have found with myself over the years that I think could be somewhat related to this is that when I sense a stressful situation coming on, I will immediately shut down and not let nayone or anything in. It is like I try to go on autopilot to avoid any chance of getting hurt. Is that normal? I know that “normal” is a somewhat relative term, I guess I am just seeking to learn if there are other people who experience stress like this too.

  • Anna Kay

    Anna Kay

    August 6th, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    Having low self esteem can be paralyzing. Anyone who has never had to confront this kind of fear does not know how difficult living with this can be. You never feel like you are able to live up to your full potential because all of this feeling bad about yourself keeps you down. And getting away from all of that is so hard to do because all of that past demons are forever threatening to bring you down.

  • ANDY F

    ANDY F

    August 6th, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    It’s not easy to remain calm and away from stress if there’s somethin big coming up.This is especially true 4 those with a lack of self confidence.Like everything,life events,big and small need the right mental make up and also preparedness.

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