The relation between short-term emotion dynamics and psychological well-being: A meta-analysis

Psychol Bull. 2015 Jul;141(4):901-30. doi: 10.1037/a0038822. Epub 2015 Mar 30.


Not only how good or bad people feel on average, but also how their feelings fluctuate across time is crucial for psychological health. The last 2 decades have witnessed a surge in research linking various patterns of short-term emotional change to adaptive or maladaptive psychological functioning, often with conflicting results. A meta-analysis was performed to identify consistent relationships between patterns of short-term emotion dynamics-including patterns reflecting emotional variability (measured in terms of within-person standard deviation of emotions across time), emotional instability (measured in terms of the magnitude of consecutive emotional changes), and emotional inertia of emotions over time (measured in terms of autocorrelation)-and relatively stable indicators of psychological well-being or psychopathology. We determined how such relationships are moderated by the type of emotional change, type of psychological well-being or psychopathology involved, valence of the emotion, and methodological factors. A total of 793 effect sizes were identified from 79 articles (N = 11,381) and were subjected to a 3-level meta-analysis. The results confirmed that overall, low psychological well-being co-occurs with more variable (overall ρ̂ = -.178), unstable (overall ρ̂ = -.205), but also more inert (overall ρ̂ = -.151) emotions. These effect sizes were stronger when involving negative compared with positive emotions. Moreover, the results provided evidence for consistency across different types of psychological well-being and psychopathology in their relation with these dynamical patterns, although specificity was also observed. The findings demonstrate that psychological flourishing is characterized by specific patterns of emotional fluctuations across time, and provide insight into what constitutes optimal and suboptimal emotional functioning. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Self Concept
  • Young Adult