Daily emotional dynamics in depressed youth: A cell phone ecological momentary assessment study

Jennifer S. Silk, Erika E. Forbes, Diana J. Whalen, Jennifer L. Jakubcak, Wesley K. Thompson, Neal D. Ryan, David A. Axelson, Boris Birmaher, Ronald E. Dahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


This study used a new cell phone ecological momentary assessment approach to investigate daily emotional dynamics in 47 youths with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 32 no-psychopathology controls (CON) (ages 7-17. years). Information about emotional experience in the natural environment was obtained using answer-only cell phones, while MDD youths received an 8-week course of cognitive behavioral therapy and/or psychopharmacological treatment. Compared with CON youths, MDD youths reported more intense and labile global negative affect; greater sadness, anger, and nervousness; and a lower ratio of positive to negative affect. These differences increased with pubertal maturation. MDD youths spent more time alone and less time with their families than CON youths. Although differences in emotional experiences were found across social contexts, MDD youths were more negative than CON youths in all contexts examined. As the MDD participants progressed through treatment, diagnostic group differences in the intensity and lability of negative affect decreased, but there were no changes in the ratio of positive to negative affect or in measures of social context. We discuss methodological innovations and advantages of this approach, including improved ecological validity and access to information about variability in emotions, change in emotions over time, the balance of positive and negative emotions, and the social context of emotional experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-257
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Depression
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotionality
  • Experience sampling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Social context


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