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Low Emotional Complexity as a Transdiagnostic Risk Factor: Comparing Idiographic Markers of Emotional Complexity to Emotional Granularity as Predictors of Anxiety, Depression, and Personality Pathology

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Individuals vary widely in emotional complexity (EC), the ways in which they represent and experience emotions. Emotional granularity, the degree to which individuals discriminate between emotions within positive or negative categories in daily experiences, is a widely studied form of EC linked to anxiety, depression, and personality pathology. However, less research has examined idiographic measures that index EC in terms of person-specific components of emotional experience, as well as links to psychopathology.


This study examined the relationship between two relatively novel idiographic indexes of EC in relation to granularity and measures of psychopathology. Participants (N = 177, 54% above moderate levels of anxiety, depression, and/or personality pathology) reported perceptions of their emotional components, a qualitative idiographic index of EC. They also completed a 50-day emotion diary.


Dynamic factor analyses yielded the number of emotion factors for each person over time, a quantitative idiographic measure of EC. Intraclass correlations on diary data measured emotional granularity. Results suggested that each measure was distinct and explained unique variance in predicting anxiety, depression, and/or personality pathology.


The results highlight the importance of studying both idiographic and existing nomothetic measures of EC as potential transdiagnostic risk factors for psychopathology.

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  1. Note that moderate anxiety pathology was assessed based on the PROMIS anxiety scale norms (Pilkonis et al., 2011). Moderate depressive pathology was assessed via PROMIS depression scale norms ibid. Moderate personality pathology was based on the PID-5 pathology subdomain in nationally representative sample norms (Krueger et al., 2012), using the procedure adopted by Samuel et al. (2013), with t-score of 65 or above reflecting moderate to severe.


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This study was supported by National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (Grant No. R01 MH123482-01).

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Correspondence to Nicholas C. Jacobson.

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Nicholas C. Jacobson, Thane M. Erickson, Christina M. Quach, and Narayan B. Singh have no conflict of interest to report.

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Jacobson, N.C., Erickson, T.M., Quach, C.M. et al. Low Emotional Complexity as a Transdiagnostic Risk Factor: Comparing Idiographic Markers of Emotional Complexity to Emotional Granularity as Predictors of Anxiety, Depression, and Personality Pathology. Cogn Ther Res 47, 181–194 (2023).

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