Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 366–377 | Cite as

Dysfunctional Attitudes and Affective Responses to Daily Stressors: Separating Cognitive, Genetic, and Clinical Influences on Stress Reactivity

  • Christopher C. Conway
  • George M. Slavich
  • Constance Hammen
Original Article


Despite decades of research examining diathesis-stress models of emotional disorders, it remains unclear whether dysfunctional attitudes interact with stressful experiences to shape affect on a daily basis and, if so, how clinical and genetic factors influence these associations. To address these issues, we conducted a multi-level daily diary study that examined how dysfunctional attitudes and stressful events relate to daily fluctuations in negative and positive affect in 104 young adults. Given evidence that clinical and genetic factors underlie stress sensitivity, we also examined how daily affect is influenced by internalizing and externalizing symptoms and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) genotype, which have been shown to influence neural, endocrine, and affective responses to stress. In multivariate models, internalizing symptoms and BDNF Val66Met genotype independently predicted heightened negative affect on stressful days, but dysfunctional attitudes did not. Specifically, the BDNF Met allele and elevated baseline internalizing symptomatology predicted greater increases in negative affect in stressful circumstances. These data are the first to demonstrate that BDNF genotype and stress are jointly associated with daily fluctuations in negative affect, and they challenge the assumption that maladaptive beliefs play a strong independent role in determining affective responses to everyday stressors. The results may thus inform the development of new multi-level theories of psychopathology and guide future research on predictors of affective lability.


Cognitive vulnerability Brain-derived neurotrophic factor Internalizing Externalizing Emotion Stress 



This research was supported in part by grants from the American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science to Christopher C. Conway; by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Grant in Genomic Analysis and Interpretation (T32 HG002536); and by NIH grant K08 MH103443 and a Society in Science–Branco Weiss Fellowship to George M. Slavich.

Conflict of Interest

Christopher C. Conway, George M. Slavich, and Constance Hammen declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all patients before their inclusion in the study.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for the purposes of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher C. Conway
    • 1
  • George M. Slavich
    • 2
    • 3
  • Constance Hammen
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Center for Anxiety and Related DisordersBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Cousins Center for PsychoneuroimmunologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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