Mean level of positive affect moderates associations between volatility in positive affect, mental health, and alcohol consumption among mothers.

Affective volatility (i.e., variability) is typically conceptualized as a marker of poor mental and behavioral health. The current research challenges this notion. Among individuals who typically experience low positive affect (PA), vacillation between bouts of joy and marked anhedonia may be associated with better behavioral health relative to a restricted range of PA experience. We therefore tested the hypothesis that mean levels of PA captured via an 8-day intensive repeated Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) would moderate the association of EMA-measured PA variability with behavioral health measured at intake among working mothers (N = 202) with young children—a population at risk for experiencing repeated stress- and reward-induced PA changes. Mixed-effects location scale modeling parsed variance in PA mean and variability, which were used in subject-level regression models of associations with depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol use. PA mean moderated the associations of PA variability with depressive symptoms (Interaction: β = .20, p = .02) and alcohol consumption frequency (Interaction: β = .22, p = .02). PA variability and depressive symptom and alcohol consumption levels were positively associated at higher PA mean levels, whereas PA variability was inversely associated with depressive symptom and alcohol consumption at low mean PA. PA Mean × Variability Interactions were not significant for anxiety and binge drinking. We conclude that (a) intensive longitudinal modeling of Affect Mean × Variability Interaction effects may provide incremental information in psychopathology research; (b) PA volatility does not unilaterally indicate poor behavioral health; and (c) a nuanced perspective on the role of PA volatility may benefit clinical services for working mothers. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)