Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Clinical Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

Newton, Tamara

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Bufferd, Sara

Committee Member

Bufferd, Sara

Committee Member

Lewine, Richard

Committee Member

Mitchell, Amanda

Author's Keywords

emotion regulation; ecological momentary assessment; polyvictimization; trauma; stress sensitization


Background and Objectives: Individuals who experience polyvictimization, or victimization across multiple life contexts, evidence particularly severe outcomes across a range of mental health diagnoses. Preliminary evidence suggests that emotion regulation difficulties and stress sensitization effects may help explain observed links between trauma exposure and mental health symptoms. However, the use of between-subjects designs to address within-subjects processes – a common approach across this literature – can result in erroneous interpretation of findings. Moreover, widespread reliance on retrospective trait measures of emotion regulation, daily stressors, and mental health symptoms have limited insight into the ways that these processes unfold in daily life. Research Design and Methods: The current study used ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to assess relationships between trauma exposure, daily stressors, state perceived stress, emotion regulation, and mental health symptoms in an undergraduate sample (N = 122), with EMA surveys delivered via smartphone over a two-week period. Results: As expected, polyvictimization independently predicted reduced state adaptive strategy use after accounting for baseline mental health symptoms. However, polyvictimization did not predict state maladaptive strategy use or dysregulation when controlling for the effects of baseline mental health symptoms. Contrary to my hypotheses and the stress sensitization framework, polyvictimized individuals did not show reduced capacity to cope with proximal stressors as indicated by increased perceived stress, maladaptive strategy use, or emotion dysregulation. Additionally, results of mediation analyses indicated that there was no indirect effect of polyvictimization on state mental health symptoms via state emotion regulation. Self-monitoring effects were evident for certain groups, with female participants reporting a decrease in mental health symptoms and emotion dysregulation over the EMA period. In contrast, men reported an increase in mental health symptoms and emotion dysregulation from pre- to post-EMA. In terms of emotion regulation strategies, polyvictimized individuals showed a slight decrease in rumination from baseline to follow-up. Discussion and Implications: Prior cross-sectional research using trait measures of emotion regulation has implicated emotion regulation difficulties as a proximal risk factor for mental health symptoms for polyvictimized individuals. The current findings are not entirely consistent with this view, suggesting that mental health symptoms may be a stronger predictor of emotion regulation problems than trauma exposure. Additionally, results add to a growing literature indicating that the use of emotion regulation strategies does not guarantee their efficacy – underscoring the need for methodologies that account for the complexities of the emotion regulation process and relevant contextual factors.