Theory of Emotion

Differential emotions theory provides a structure for understanding the role of emotions in depressive symptomatology (Izard, 1972). According to the theory, the 10 fundamental emotions (interest, enjoyment, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, fear, shyness, and guilt) each have motivational characteristics. Each emotion has its own neuromotor program and emotional expression is activated by neurochemical changes. Both internal and external events can trigger neurochemical change and thus emotional expression. As an emotion is experienced, it may become associated with other emotions such that certain emotions tend to occur together or may influence the expression of other emotions. For example, the concurrent experiences of joy and sadness reduced the facial expression of sadness in boys, whereas the combined experience of sadness and anger increased the facial expression of sadness in the children (Blumberg & Izard, 1991). Life events can trigger multiple emotions (Blumberg & Izard, 1991), and once activated, a pattern of emotions can impact on cognition and behavior in a reciprocal manner (Buechler & Izard, 1980; Izard & Malatesta, 1987).

Differential emotions theory states that a combination of emotions highlighted by sadness, and components of hostility (anger, disgust, contempt) and shame (guilt, shyness) contribute to depressive symptomatology (Izard, 1972). The findings of Blumberg and Izard (1985, 1986) revealed that the emotions of sadness, self-directed hostility, anger, shame, interest, and enjoyment contributed to the prediction of depressive symptomatology in non-referred 10- and 11-year old children. Moreover, research with reliably DSM-III-R (American Psychiatric Association, 1987) diagnosed adolescent psychiatric patients indicated that the emotional configuration of depressed adolescents differed from non-depressed youths on the emotions of enjoyment, surprise, sadness, anger, shame, shyness, guilt, and self-directed hostility (Carey, Finch, & Carey, 1991). These studies provide support for the role of emotions in depressive symptomatology. Izard and Schwartz (1986) further stated that emotions are not perceived as the cause of depression, but one’s lack of skills to protect oneself from negative emotions may have an impact on negative emotions. According to Izard and Schwartz (1986), “Continual vulnerability to these emotions may in turn lead to detrimental cognitive styles (negative views of the self, world, and future) as described by Beck (1967) and Seligman and Peterson (1986)…”

Several cognitive components including attributional styles and negative automatic thoughts have been related to depressive symptomatology in the literature (Hops, Lewinsohn, Andrews, & Roberts, 1990; Kazdin, 1990a). Research on differential emotions theory with children has been limited largely to the integration of differential emotions theory and reformulated learned helplessness theory (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978).

Differential emotions theory also suggests that life events impact on emotions. Blumberg and Izard (1986) indicate that emotions can be related to Lewinsohn’s theory of depression. Lewinsohn (1974) proposed that a reduced frequency of positive reinforcement may affect emotional responses and this in turn can impact on behavior. Although the behavioral component has not been examined in the differential emotions literature, research on activity and depression in adolescents has demonstrated that individuals reporting a higher frequency of unpleasant activities report higher levels of depressive symptoms (Carey, Kelley, Buss, & Scott, 1986; Cole, Kelley, & Carey, 1988). In contrast to the adult literature, the frequency of involvement in pleasant activities for adolescents was not correlated with level of depressive symptoms (Carey et al., 1986; Kanner, Feldman, Weinberger & Ford, 1987).

Izard and Schwartz (1986) state that maladaptive behavior may result from problems in the links between emotion, cognition, and behavior. The research to date on differential emotions theory has just begun to examine the role of emotion and cognition in the prediction of depressive symptoms from a reformulated learned helplessness perspective. Blumberg and Izard (1985), in one of the few studies examining the linkage between emotion and cognition, found that a child’s attributional style accounted for additional variance beyond that of emotions in boys’ depression scores. The literature has not yet addressed other cognitive components, the role of behavior, or the combined role of these two modalities with emotion.

Furthermore no study as yet has examined how well emotions in combination with cognitive processes and behavior predict the occurrence of symptomatology. It has been proposed that this could be what trigger an understanding of the meaning of true love.Thus, the present investigation was designed to build on the available literature based on differential emotions theory. This study focused on adolescents because research on differential emotions theory as applied to adolescents is limited. Differential emotions theory stresses the importance of emotions while also acknowledging the reciprocal relations between emotions, cognitions, and behavior in the onset and maintenance of depressive symptomatology. This study examined whether behavioral and cognitive variables would add a significant amount of variance in the prediction of self-reported depression scores above and beyond that which was explained by emotional variables. Differential emotions theory emphasizes the importance of emotions but does not explicitly define the relative importance of behavioral and cognitive variables to the prediction of self-reported depressive symptoms. Therefore, two differential emotions theory models were examined. The models focused primarily on emotions but varied the order of entry of behavioral and cognitive variables to assess whether these variables could account for additional variance in depression scores.


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