All Mixed Up: Correlates of Emotional Complexity Across the Lifespan


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Individuals experience a wide variety of emotions in their everyday lives. Some experience more variety, or complexity, than others, called emotional complexity. There is a body of research that suggests that emotional complexity is beneficial for mental and physical health; yet more recent work has called these associations into question. Moreover, stressful events and other specific contexts may modify associations between emotional complexity and key well-being outcomes. It also remains unclear how emotional complexity develops and changes across the lifespan. Despite a wealth of research that (mostly) points toward greater emotional complexity and well-being in late life, other life stages (namely, adolescence and young adulthood) have been neglected. My dissertation will take steps to address these limitations by examining the links between different indices of emotional complexity (i.e., mixed emotions, emodiversity, and non-target emotions) and other key aspects of functioning (i.e., internalizing symptoms, well-being, and executive functioning) across the lifespan. Specifically, I will examine age-by-context differences in emotional complexity, as well as the short- and long-term consequences of different types of complex emotional responding. More specifically, my three dissertation chapters will examine 1) age-by-context differences in mixed emotions across positive, negative, and neutral stimuli; 2) how emodiversity in late adolescence is linked to internalizing mental health symptoms, concurrently and longitudinally, and how life stress may influence these associations; and 3) how non-target emotions are linked to executive functioning in older adults. Taken together, this dissertation spans affective science, as well as several fields of psychology, to examine an underexplored aspect of emotional functioning (i.e., emotional complexity) across the lifespan. Particular attention is paid to measurement, with several types of emotional complexity represented; life stage, with a focus on adolescence through late life; and emotion-in-context approaches, incorporating both situational and environmental contexts. This work has important implications for affective and intervention science, as well as developmental, clinical, health, and cognitive psychology.

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