Cross-sectional and longitudinal relations between affective instability and depression

Renee J. Thompson, Howard Berenbaum, Keith Bredemeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There is a growing recognition that emotional traits are important for understanding many mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder (MDD). The present research examined (a) the relation between MDD and the emotional trait of affective instability, and (b) whether individual facets of affective instability, affect intensity and affect variability, exhibited unique relations with anhedonic depression. Methods: In Study 1, affective instability and MDD were both assessed via clinical interviews in an adult community sample (n = 288). In Studies 2 and 3, the relations between anhedonic depression and affect variability and affect intensity were assessed cross-sectionally using self-report measures in a college student sample (n = 142; Study 2) and a female community sample (n = 101; Study 3). Study 3 also prospectively examined whether affect variability and/or intensity predicted changes in anhedonic depression over two months. Results: In Study 1, affective instability and MDD were significantly associated, even after excluding individuals experiencing a current major depressive episode. In Studies 2 and 3, affect variability but not affect intensity was significantly, positively associated with anhedonic depression. In Study 3, affect variability but not affect intensity prospectively predicted increases in anhedonic depression. Limitations: Future studies should assess the entire Bipolar Disorder spectrum and utilize event sampling, permitting the examination of other facets of affective instability (e.g., temporal dependency) and address other limitations of retrospective measures (e.g., recall bias). Conclusions: These findings suggest that affective instability and particularly affect variability are associated with MDD and anhedonic depression. The tendency to experience frequent fluctuations in mood may constitute an important risk factor for depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-59
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Affect intensity
  • Affect lability
  • Affective instability
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Mood variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Cross-sectional and longitudinal relations between affective instability and depression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this