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date: 26 April 2019

Summary and Keywords

Dynamic integration theory (DIT) describes emotion development across the lifespan, from childhood to old age. In doing so, DIT draws on a number of perspectives, such as equilibrium theories, theories of cognitive development, and theories of behavioral adaptation, and takes a strong cognitive-developmental view on emotion experience and emotion regulation. Two propositions are at the core of DIT. First, the development of emotion experience and emotion regulation proceeds from simple and automatic reactions to increasingly complex and integrated cognitive-affective structures (i.e., schemas). These cognitive-affective structures can be ordered in terms of increasing levels of cognitive complexity and integration, with integration referring to a person’s ability to acknowledge both positive and negative affect states and to tolerate and reconcile the contradictions and tensions that these states generate. Second, DIT also postulates that the efficiency with which cognitive-affective systems work is a result of the dynamic interplay between contextual variables and person-specific characteristics. Three key factors contribute to this dynamic interplay between person and context: (1) the strength of the affective arousal, (2) the person’s cognitive resources for dealing with different affect states, and (3) pre-existing trait-like dispositions and reaction tendencies that may either hinder or facilitate emotion regulation. Thus, a person’s emotion experience and emotion regulation in a given situation are the product of the dynamic interaction of these factors. Considerable empirical evidence supports the theoretical propositions of DIT, including findings speaking to changes in emotion experience and emotion regulation in later life when declines in cognitive functioning tend to become normative.

Keywords: dynamic integration theory, cognitive-affective development, affect optimization, affect complexity, equilibrium zone, tension threshold, cognitive resources

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