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Disentangling trait, occasion-specific, and accumulated situational effects of psychological distress in adulthood: evidence from the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts

  • B. S. Scarpato (a1), W. Swardfager (a2) (a3), M. Eid (a4), G.B. Ploubidis (a5) and H. Cogo-Moreira (a1) (a5)...



The trajectories of psychological distress differ between individuals, but these differences can be difficult to understand because the measures contain both consistent and situational features; however, in longitudinal studies these sources of information can be disentangled. In addition to occasion-specific features, interindividual differences can be decomposed into two sources of information: trait and carry-over effects between neighboring occasions that are not related to the trait (i.e. accumulated situational effects).


To disentangle these three sources of variance throughout adulthood, the consistency (trait and accumulated situational effects) and occasion specificity of nine indicators of psychological distress from the Malaise Inventory were examined in two birth cohorts, the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS58), and the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70).


The scale was administered at ages 23, 33, 42, and 50 in NCDS58 (n = 7147), and at ages 26, 30, 34, and 42 in BCS70 (n = 6859). For each psychological symptom, more variance was consistent than occasion-specific. The majority of the consistency was due to trait variance as opposed to accumulated situational effects, indicating that an individual predisposed to be distressed at the beginning of the study remained more likely to be distressed over the whole period. Symptoms of rage were notably more consistent among males than females in both cohorts (78.1% and 81.3% variance explained by trait in NCDS58 and BCS70, respectively), and among females in the NCDS58 (69%).


Symptoms of psychological distress exhibited high stability throughout adulthood, especially among men, due mostly to interindividual trait differences.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: H. Cogo-Moreira, E-mail:


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Disentangling trait, occasion-specific, and accumulated situational effects of psychological distress in adulthood: evidence from the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohorts

  • B. S. Scarpato (a1), W. Swardfager (a2) (a3), M. Eid (a4), G.B. Ploubidis (a5) and H. Cogo-Moreira (a1) (a5)...


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