Objective: The present study sought to 1) examine the measurement of emotional complexity (EC) by examining the associations among different indicators of EC (i.e., covariation between positive affect and negative affect; overall, negative, and positive granularity; overall, negative, and positive differentiation) derived from the same data set and identifying a latent factor structure; and 2) evaluate the predictive ability of EC on psychological distress, emotional well-being, and physical functioning while accounting for stressful contexts. The utility of assessing emotion diversity (ED) as another aspect of EC was also explored.
Methods: 191 middle-aged adults from a community-based study on resilience were asked to complete 30 daily diaries assessing positive and negative affect. At least 6 months later, participants completed a phone interview that assessed distress (i.e., depressive and anxiety symptoms), well-being (i.e., WHO-5 well-being, vitality, social functioning), physical functioning, and perceived stress.
Results: A three-factor solution with latent factors representing overall, negative, and positive EC was identified. Overall EC significantly predicted enhanced physical functioning, but was not associated with distress or well-being. Contrary to study hypotheses, positive and negative EC were not associated with future distress, well-being, or physical functioning, though a trend toward improved physical functioning was noted for positive EC. In contrast, positive and negative ED were both associated with less distress, and better well-being and physical functioning. Overall ED was unexpectedly related to worse outcomes (i.e., more distress, less well-being, decreased physical functioning). Stress did not moderate the relationship between emotional complexity and the outcome variables.
Conclusions: Different indicators of EC represent distinct aspects of emotional experience. Partial support of the hypotheses found. Physical functioning was the only outcome influenced by EC. The inclusion of stress did not change the results. The discrepancy between the findings and those in the literature may be related to reliability of EC indicators and absence of contextual factors. Further exploration of ED revealed a potentially important construct of emotional experience that is deserving of further inquiry.