Affect Intensity and Individual Differences In Informational Style


  • This research was supported by Research Scientist Development Award KO1-MH00704 and Grant RO1-MH42057 from the National Institute of Mental Health to Randy J. Larsen. The authors would like to thank Jennifer Campbell and two anonymous reviewers for constructive and detailed comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Randy J. Larsen, Department of Psychology, 525 East University, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109.


Although individuals differ widely in the typical intensity of their affective experience, the mechanisms that create or maintain these differences are unclear. Larsen, Diener, and Cropanzano (1987) examined the hypothesis that individual differences in affect intensity (AI) are related to how people interpret emotional stimuli. They found that high AI individuals engaged in more personalizing and generalizing cognitions while construing emotional stimuli than low AI individuals. The present study extends these findings by examining cognitive activity during a different task-the generation of information to communicate about life events. Participants provided free-response descriptions of 16 life events. These descriptions were content coded for five informational style variables. It was found that the descriptive information generated by high AI participants contained significantly more references to emotional arousal, more focus on feelings, and more generalization compared to participants low in AI. These results are consistent with the notion that specific cognitive activity may lead to, or at least be associated with, dispositional affect intensity. In addition, the informational style variables identified in this study were stable over time and consistent across situations. Although men and women differ in AI, this difference becomes insignificant after controlling for informational style variation. Overall results are discussed