Emotional lability, defined as rapid and/or intense affect fluctuations, is associated with pediatric psychopathology. Although numerous studies have examined labile mood in clinical groups, few studies have used real-time assessments in a well-characterized transdiagnostic sample, and no prior study has included participants with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD). The present study leverages ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to assess emotional lability in a transdiagnostic pediatric sample.
One hundred thirty participants ages 8−18 with primary diagnoses of DMDD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an anxiety disorder (ANX), or healthy volunteers completed a previously validated 1-week EMA protocol. Clinicians determined diagnoses based on semi-structured interviews and assessed levels of functional impairment. Participants reported momentary affective states and mood change. Composite scores of fluctuations in positive and negative affect were generated. Affect fluctuations were compared between diagnostic groups and tested for their association with functional impairment.
Diagnostic groups differed in levels of negative and positive emotional lability. DMDD patients demonstrated the highest level of labile mood compared with other groups. Emotional lability was associated with global impairment in the whole sample.
Both positive and negative emotional lability is salient in pediatric psychopathology and is associated with functional impairment, particularly in DMDD youth.