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Depressive symptoms and deficits in stress‐reactive negative, positive, and within‐emotion‐category differentiation: A daily diary study



The present research aimed to better understand deficits in emotion differentiation that accompany depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms have been associated with more undifferentiated negative emotion experiences-experiencing multiple negative emotions simultaneously. We extend previous research by asking: (a) Are depressive symptoms and negative and positive emotion differentiation related above and beyond emotion intensity? (b) Are deficits in negative emotion differentiation specific to distinct categories of negative emotions (sadness, guilt, anger, and anxiety)? and (c) Do age or gender predict emotion differentiation or its associations with depressive symptoms?


In 220 community participants (59% female; 21-60 years), we assessed depressive symptoms using surveys and emotion differentiation using daily diary emotion ratings in response to daily stressful events.


Greater depressive symptoms were associated with lower negative, but not positive, emotion differentiation, above and beyond emotion intensity. Depressive symptoms were specifically related to lower differentiation among sadness-related emotions, and this sadness-specific deficit accounted for the deficit in negative emotion differentiation. Age and gender did not predict or moderate associations with emotion differentiation.


Depressive symptoms are associated with undifferentiated negative emotions above and beyond emotion intensity, and this association appears to be driven by undifferentiated sadness-related emotions, across gender and age.

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