Psychological theories often reduce descriptions of people’s emotional experiences to a small number of underlying dimensions that capture most of the variation in their responses. These underlying dimensions are typically uncovered by comparing the self-reported emotions of many individuals at one specific time point, to infer a single underlying structure of emotion for all people. However, theoretical work suggests that underlying dimensions uncovered in this way may not hold when modeling how people change over time. Individuals may differ not just in their typical score on a given dimension of emotion, but in what dimensions best characterize their patterns of emotional experience over time. In this study, participants described two emotional events per day for 35 days, and analyses compared individualized structures of emotion to those generated from many people at one point in time. Analyses using R-technique factor analysis, which compares many people at one time point, most often uncovered a two-factor solution corresponding to positivity and negativity dimensions - a solution well-established in the literature. However, analyses using P-technique factor analysis, which compares many emotional events for one person, uncovered a broader diversity of underlying dimensions. Individuals needed anywhere from one to five factors to best capture their self-reported emotions. Further, dimensions specifically related to romantic relationships were much more common when examining the experiences of individuals over time. This suggests that external factors, such as pursuing or being in a romantic relationship, might lead to a qualitative shift in how emotions are experienced. Research attempting to characterize emotion dynamics, including those attempting to help people shift or regulate their emotions, cannot assume that typical two dimensional structures of emotional experience apply to all people. Instead we must account for how individuals describe their own emotional experiences.
- Idiographic emotion structures in subjective emotional experiences
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Statement of Responsibility
by Alexander F. Danvers