Negative Urgency, Emotion Regulation, and Stress Generation: An Experience Sampling Study

Kerry Kelso

Advisor: Keith D Renshaw, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sarah Fischer, Tim Curby

Online Location, Online
July 11, 2023, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


This dissertation is a two-part ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study that focuses on two transdiagnostic elements surrounding negative affect and avoidant emotion regulation in a clinical analog sample: negative urgency (NU) and stress generation. NU is the tendency to engage in impulsive behavior in response to strong negative emotions and has been shown to characterize various mental health problems. Emerging prospective evidence suggests that NU predicts avoidance of negative affect (NA), a well-established risk and maintenance factor for a wide range of psychopathology. However, only a few EMA studies have examined the relationship between NU and avoidance, and they evaluated trait NU as a predictor of specific avoidance strategies.  No studies have investigated state NU as a moderator of momentary NA and broad avoidant emotion regulation.Determining how NU influences the relationship between NA and avoidance and whether state or trait NU is more influential, is imperative to understanding the role of NU in psychopathology and if it is a viable intervention target in at-risk and clinical populations.Prospective studies show that people experience more dependent stressors when they have or experience symptoms of emotional disorders. Avoidant emotion regulation is theorized to promote stress generation. A few longitudinal studies show that avoidance predicts dependent stressors months to years later. A single EMA study found that NA did not interact with avoidance strategies to predict dependent stressors; however, the dynamics of NA, avoidance, and stress generation were evaluated at different time points, spanning several hours, and in a healthy sample. To determine if avoidance interacts with NA to predict dependent stressors, they must be evaluated in closer proximity. Likewise, these relationships should be investigated in a sample at risk for developing emotional disorders for results to have clinical implications. The present two-part EMA study evaluated how NU promotes and stress generation results from avoidance of negative affect in a sample (n =84) experiencing emotion dysregulation. Inclusion criteria included English fluency, smart phone access, and significantly higher difficulties with emotion regulation than the general population. After completing a screener and baseline survey with items assessing inclusion criteria and a trait measure of NU, eligible and consenting participants completed four surveys per day for two weeks. Surveys were identical at each time point and included state measures of NA, NU, avoidant emotion regulation strategies, and dependent stressors. Hypotheses were evaluated with multi-level generalized linear models. Study 1 evaluated the interactions of trait and state NU with state NA on avoidance strategies. Results demonstrated main and interaction effects on same- and next-time-point avoidance that varied by state versus trait assessment of NU. A recently introduced state measure of NU may be more predictive of avoidance than an established trait measure. Study 2 investigated the interaction between NA and avoidance strategies on stress generation. Findings showed that NA and avoidance differentially predicted dependent stressors as the same- and next-timepoint. Results indicate that distress and avoidance may be a consequence rather than a generator of stressors. The strengths and limitations of findings, and future directions are discussed.