Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 602–624 | Cite as

When context matters: Negative emotions predict psychological health and adjustment

  • Karin G. CoifmanEmail author
  • Jessica J. Flynn
  • Lavinia A. Pinto
Original Paper


Functional theories of emotion argue for the adaptive function of negative emotions in response to specific contextual or environmental demands. However, data supporting these theories in community samples is limited and much research has suggested the opposite: negative emotions predict poor adjustment. To begin to address this discrepancy, we tested the functional association between negative emotion and psychological health and adjustment across three diverse samples: adults in intimate-partnerships, patients with chronic illness, and first-year college students. In each study we employed lab-based methods to elicit and index emotion as a multi-dimensional response system and considered contextual factors and the theorized or demonstrated function of negative emotions in that context and in relation to specific outcomes. Data analysis revealed that contextually sensitive negative emotion was adaptive, and associated with better relationship adjustment and related behaviors (Study 1), higher treatment adherence (Study 2), and adaptive responses to peer rejection (Study 3). Across samples, circumstances, and outcomes, negative emotions were positively associated with psychological health and adjustment.


Negative emotion Adjustment Stress Context Health 



The authors would like to express their gratitude to the numerous research assistants and staff involved in the data collection described here. In addition, we would like to thank Dr. T.L.Gilman for her comments on the final versions of the manuscript. Finally, this work was funded in part by a Farris Family Innovation Award, Farris Family Foundation to Dr. Coifman.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Human and animal rights

All procedures performed in research involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the relevant institutional review boards governing research involving human subjects and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and it later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Moreover, written informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin G. Coifman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jessica J. Flynn
    • 1
  • Lavinia A. Pinto
    • 1
  1. 1.Kent State UniversityKentUSA

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