Flexibility or Instability? Emotion Goal Dynamics and Mental Health

Danfei Hu*, Elise K. Kalokerinos, Maya Tamir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Emotion goals (i.e., what people want or do not want to feel) have important implications for emotional and mental health because they can shape whether, when, and how people regulate their emotions. Although research has shown that emotion goals vary across individuals and situations, we know relatively little about the dynamic changes in emotion goals in daily life and their potential implications. Given the dynamic features of emotions and emotion regulation, emotion goals may also fluctuate across time and their fluctuations may be critically linked to mental health. This research assessed the everyday dynamics of emotion goals, in particular, variability and inertia, and their associations with mental health. In two studies (N =56 in Study 1 and N= 173 in Study 2), we included different indices of mental health and used Ecological Momentary Assessments to measure both pleasant and unpleasant emotion goals and experiences at a momentary level in daily life. We found that variability in unpleasant, but not pleasant, emotion goals was linked to better mental health outcomes, even after controlling for the mean levels of emotion goals, and the variability and mean levels of the corresponding emotional experiences. Emotion goal inertia was unrelated to mental health. These findings suggest that emotion goal variability is an important novel factor that may contribute to or reflect mental health.

Original languageAmerican English
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association


  • dynamics
  • emotion regulation
  • mental health
  • motivation
  • variability


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