Although major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder, research examining the emotional experiences of individuals diagnosed with MDD has focused largely on the valence of mood, that is, on the extent to which individuals? emotional experiences are positive or negative. In fact, emotional experiences can be parsed along several other dimensions such as variability, intensity, frequency, and duration. There is growing recognition that these dimensions are important for understanding the etiology and course of MDD. In this context, the proposed research will examine the emotional experiences of currently depressed and never-depressed adults, with a specific emphasis on affective instability, which encompasses emotional intensity, variability, frequency of change, and temporal dependency. The overarching goal of the proposed research is to utilize a diverse set of methods to test an affective model of MDD that integrates cognitive, interpersonal, and psychobiological factors. Participants? everyday emotional experiences will be assessed using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) on handheld electronic devices that are programmed to randomly prompt them to complete a series of questions about their current emotional states. This method permits the examination of emotional experiences of depressed individuals in a naturalistic setting.
Other aims i nclude (1) examining two theoretically-derived factors that may underlie the proposed relation between affective instability and MDD (cognitive biases and unmet psychological need for relatedness);and (2) determining whether these emotional, interpersonal, and cognitive factors contribute to increased levels of systemic inflammation, that have been found to be associated with both depression and the progression of infectious, metabolic, and coronary diseases. To achieve these two objectives, participants? cognitive biases (i.e., the tendency to recall negative (over positive) memories and to attend selectively to negative (over positive) stimuli) will be assessed using standardized computer tasks in a laboratory setting. In addition, as with affective instability, the extent to which participants? psychological needs for relatedness are met will be assessed at each prompt during their week of EMA. Measuring both emotions and psychological needs over seven days will permit an examination of the coupling of these two constructs. Finally, using a relatively non-invasive technique, participants? levels of systemic inflammation will be assessed twice, six months apart. These two assessments of inflammation will permit an examination of whether and how changes in inflammation are associated with affective, cognitive, and interpersonal factors measured at the first assessment. This study will help to elucidate the mechanisms that may underlie the relation between MDD and affective instability, and to gain a better understanding of how factors that increase individuals? vulnerability to depression are associated with changes in systemic inflammation.

Public Health Relevance

Depression, a disorder that afflicts 16% of Americans, is associated with a range of difficulties, including negative thought patterns, interpersonal stress, and low-grade systemic inflammation, which is associated with infectious, metabolic, and coronary diseases. Whereas investigators typically examine one or two factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of depression, this project combines and integrates emotional, interpersonal, cognitive, and immunological approaches. Integrated approaches to studying depression are needed to improve our understanding of this disorder, and to increase the effectiveness of treatments and interventions for depression, a disease that, according to the World Health Organization, is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F12B-J (20))
Program Officer
Rubio, Mercedes
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Stanford University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Thompson, Renee J; Kircanski, Katharina; Gotlib, Ian H (2016) The grass is not as green as you think: Affect evaluation in people with internalizing disorders. J Affect Disord 203:233-40
Kircanski, Katharina; Thompson, Renee J; Sorenson, James et al. (2015) Rumination and Worry in Daily Life: Examining the Naturalistic Validity of Theoretical Constructs. Clin Psychol Sci 3:926-939
Thompson, Renee J; Kuppens, Peter; Mata, Jutta et al. (2015) Emotional clarity as a function of neuroticism and major depressive disorder. Emotion 15:615-24
Bulteel, Kirsten; Ceulemans, Eva; Thompson, Renee J et al. (2014) DeCon: a tool to detect emotional concordance in multivariate time series data of emotional responding. Biol Psychol 98:29-42
Demiralp, Emre; Thompson, Renee J; Mata, Jutta et al. (2012) Feeling blue or turquoise? Emotional differentiation in major depressive disorder. Psychol Sci 23:1410-6