Title: What We Do with Emotions and Why it Matters: Affective Processes in Depression and Anxiety
Abstract: Affective processes play a central role in our moment-by-moment experience, interfacing with cognition and social interactions to provide critical information about environmental demands. Healthy individuals are generally able to utilize this information adaptively, with flexible responses to their emotions that facilitate goal attainment. However, affect functions less effectively for many individuals with psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety, leading to extreme, contextually-insensitive, and/or dysregulated emotions that are maintained in part by counter-productive cognitive and behavioral responses. I argue that it is critical to simultaneously consider the contributions of (1) traits and individual differences, and (2) dynamic, contextual influences to understand for whom, how, and why affective processes go awry, increasing risk for psychopathology and reducing well-being. As such, much of my work utilizes intensive longitudinal designs that capture affective experiences as dynamic within-person processes, while also maximizing ecological validity. I will present a line of my research that focuses on predictors and mental health consequences of two specific responses to affect: emotion regulation (i.e., attempts to alter the trajectory of one’s emotions) and decentering (i.e., taking an objective observer perspective on one’s thoughts and feelings). I will also describe future directions and implications for etiological models and translational/clinical settings. Ultimately, my work aims to improve assessment of affective processes, identify robust, transdiagnostic treatment targets, and inform just-in-time adaptive interventions optimized for an individual’s characteristics and life contexts.