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Individual Differences in Appraisals of Emotional Ambiguity: Biological, Psychological, and Social Predictors

Nicholas R Harp, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Uncertainty is ubiquitous in life, and its impacts are seen in decision-making across diverse contexts (e.g., financial, health, and interpersonal/social). As a result, individual differences in response to emotional ambiguity, a special type of uncertainty, can have far-reaching impacts. A growing literature has explored these individual differences in valence bias, or the tendency to appraise ambiguous social signals as more positive or negative. Although these appraisals are generally characterized by an initial negativity, many individuals arrive at positive appraisals through regulatory processes. Chronic negativity appears to be linked to an increased risk of mood and anxiety symptoms and has spurred research assessing predictors of valence bias at the biological, psychological, and social levels, that support the overriding of initial negativity. Here, biological predictors are probed via resting-state functional connectivity, in particular among emotion regulation (i.e., amygdala and PFC) and task performance (i.e., cingulo-opercular) brain networks, which are leveraged to predict individual differences in valence bias with machine learning algorithms. Next, psychological predictors are explored in the context of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction intervention – showing a malleability of the trait-like valence bias. Then, the broad-scale uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on valence bias over the period of approximately 15 months is characterized, showing a generalized increase in negativity at the start of the pandemic but individual differences in this change after the pandemic’s onset. Findings from each of these three levels of analysis are then discussed in the context of understanding sources of variability in individual differences in valence bias and improving physical and mental well-being.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Harp, Nicholas R, "Individual Differences in Appraisals of Emotional Ambiguity: Biological, Psychological, and Social Predictors" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29164467.