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Clin Psychol Rev. 1997 Nov;17(7):791-821.

Individual differences in the experience of emotions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


The purpose of this paper is to highlight the important role of individual difference factors in the experience of emotion. We begin by describing several commonalties across two major approaches to the study of emotion, namely, the neuropsychological and cognitive perspectives. Both approaches provide some degree of support for the role of individual differences and cognitive factors in the experience of emotion. This paper builds on these commonalities by reviewing personality and psychopathology findings that indicate the contribution of both positive and negative personality characteristics (e.g., extraversion, optimism vs. neuroticism, trait anxiety) to the types of cognitive appraisals and emotional responses exhibited by different individuals. A self-schema model of emotion is presented as a means of integrating more fully this individual differences perspective with a theory of emotion. In this model, self-schema content provides the basis for individual differences in underlying core themes and self-evaluative beliefs. The model describes how self-schema content distinctions across individuals may have a differential impact on the initial processing of an event, evaluation of this event with respect to the self, and emotional and behavioral output. Several examples are then presented to illustrate the increased predictability afforded by this individual differences-based self-schema model of emotion. The application of this model to treatment and prevention issues in clinical and health psychology is also briefly considered. Finally, the model is integrated with other theoretical perspectives on emotion by describing a number of additional research and theoretical implications. Emphasis is placed on the need for further clarification of both cognitive and emotional components of an individual differences perspective on the study of emotions.

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