Mysterious Depression Symptom Demystified with Experience Sampling

Self-reactive self-esteem, depression, and experience sampling

Imagine pulling down a white box from a metal shelf in an evidence room housing hundreds of other boxes just like it. For years, the case that the box contained evidence for was left unsolved, but the advent of a new technological advancement might, finally, enable it to be solved.

This was the case for a relatively well-known symptom of depression. Of course, evidence for this symptom was not an actual “case.” But there was enough “circumstantial evidence” to make mood-reactive self-esteem a diagnostic criterion for depression in DSM-5. However, with new technology, figuring out whether mood-reactive self-estedm is a symptom of depression is possible.

Mood-reactive self-esteem involves your self-esteem changing along with your mood. So, if you feel up, you feel good about yourself, if you feel sad, you feel bad. You get it.

However, unlike other depression symptoms, like sadness, fatigue, and anhedonia that can be measured and correlated with depression in one point in time, mood-reactive self-esteem is dynamic; it intrinsically changes over time. Surveys would not necessarily suffice to confirm this phenomenon even occurred, let alone predicted, or was a symptom of depression.

Peter Clasen from Stanford University, Aaron Fisher from University of California, Berkeley, and Christopher Beevers from University of Texas at Austin, decided to investigate this mystery by using smartphones to their advantage.

Lots of people have smartphones, and carry the devices around with them everywhere, all the time. So they were perfect for monitoring changes in mood and self-esteem over time. So that’s what they did.

The researchers found that for certain people, self-esteem did, indeed correlate with their mood. Further, they found that this characteristic was correlated with depression symptoms, such as rumination and decreased mood.

So by using the new technology of smartphone-based experience sampling, Clasen, Fisher, and Beevers were able to confirm what psychologists could not previously know for certain. For now, the case for mood-reactive self-esteem seems to be one step closer to… “case closed.”

Clasen, P. C., Fisher, A. J., Beevers, C., G. 2015. Mood-Reactive Self-Esteem and Depression Vulnerability: Person-Specific Symptom Dynamics via Smart Phone Assessment. PLoS One. 2015; 10(7): e0129774.

Smith, A. 2015. “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015.” Pew Research Center. Retrieved from


Want to Learn More?