Home > Issue 4 (Volume 6) > Toward a Definition of Affective Instability
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Affective instability is a psychophysiological symptom observed in some psychopathologies. It is a complex construct that encompasses (1) primary emotions, or affects, and secondary emotions, with each category having its own characteristics, amplitude, and duration, (2) rapid shifting from neutral or valenced affect to intense affect, and (3) dysfunctional modulation of emotions. Affective instability is often confused with mood lability, as in bipolar disorders, as well as with other terms. To clarify the concept, we searched databases for the term affective instability and read related articles on the topic. In this article we situate the term within the current affective nomenclature and human emotional experience, explore its psychophysiological features, and place it within the context of psychopathology. We explain why the term can potentially be confused with mood

pathology and then define affective instability as an inherited temperamental trait modulated by developmental experience. (HARV REV PSYCHIATRY 2012;20:298–308.)

Keywords: affective instability, bipolar disorder type II, borderline personality disorder, mood lability

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