Affective States Contribute to Trait Reports of Affective Well-Being

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Abstract

Asking people to provide global judgments, or trait reports, of their affective experience is a standard method for assessing trait affective well-being, with countless applications in the social sciences. Trait reports reflect numerous influences that generally go unnoticed. Although state affect is a highly plausible candidate for such influences, this source of unwanted variance does not receive much attention and is usually not controlled for in empirical studies. Using 100-day data from the COGITO study, we provide direct and strong evidence that trait reports of affect depend on how people feel at the time they provide the evaluations (i.e., their affective state). For example, participants experiencing more positive affect on a specific day relative to their individual mean also provide more positive ratings of their global affective experience. Furthermore, we found that current affect influences trait ratings in a surprisingly differentiated way—those particular facets of affect that are more/less prevalent at a certain moment are believed to occur more/less often in general. We stress the need for repeated observations within individuals to estimate state contributions to standard assessments of trait affect, to distinguish between state and trait in psychological assessment, and to achieve good indicators of affective experiences in the social and medical sciences.

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