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Emotion. 2013 Apr;13(2):226-37. doi: 10.1037/a0030363. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

Time-based indicators of emotional complexity: interrelations and correlates.

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Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


Emotional complexity has been regarded as one correlate of adaptive emotion regulation in adulthood. One novel and potentially valuable approach to operationalizing emotional complexity is to use reports of emotions obtained repeatedly in real time, which can generate a number of potential time-based indicators of emotional complexity. It is not known, however, how these indicators relate to each other, to other measures of affective complexity, such as those derived from a cognitive-developmental view of emotional complexity, or to measures of adaptive functioning, such as well-being. A sample of 109 adults, aged 23 to 90 years, participated in an experience-sampling study and reported their negative and positive affect five times a day for one week. Based on these reports, we calculated nine different time-based indicators potentially reflecting emotional complexity. Analyses showed three major findings: First, the indicators showed a diverse pattern of interrelations suggestive of four distinct components of emotional complexity. Second, age was generally not related to time-based indicators of emotional complexity; however, older adults showed overall low variability in negative affect. Third, time-based indicators of emotional complexity were either unrelated or inversely related to measures of adaptive functioning; that is, these measures tended to predict a less adaptive profile, such as lower subjective and psychological well-being. In sum, time-based indicators of emotional complexity displayed a more complex and less beneficial picture than originally thought. In particular, variability in negative affect seems to indicate suboptimal adjustments. Future research would benefit from collecting empirical data for the interrelations and correlates of time-based indicators of emotional complexity in different contexts.

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