Affect dynamics in relation to depressive symptoms: variable, unstable or inert?

Emotion. 2013 Dec;13(6):1132-41. doi: 10.1037/a0033579. Epub 2013 Aug 5.


Depression not only involves disturbances in prevailing affect, but also in how affect fluctuates over time. Yet, precisely which patterns of affect dynamics are associated with depressive symptoms remains unclear; depression has been linked with increased affective variability and instability, but also with greater resistance to affective change (inertia). In this paper, we argue that these paradoxical findings stem from a number of neglected methodological/analytical factors, which we address using a novel paradigm and analytic approach. Participants (N = 99), preselected to represent a wide range of depressive symptoms, watched a series of emotional film clips and rated their affect at baseline and following each film clip. We also assessed participants' affect in daily life over 1 week using experience sampling. When controlling for overlap between different measures of affect dynamics, depressive symptoms were independently associated with higher inertia of negative affect in the lab, and with greater negative affect variability both in the lab and in daily life. In contrast, depressive symptoms were not independently related to higher affective instability either in daily life or in the lab.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Quality of Life
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult