Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Christen Deveney

Additional Advisor(s)

Margaret Keane

Additional Advisor

Jeremy Wilmer


Severe irritability is impairing to affected individuals and those around them. Literature on irritability and social functioning is growing with a focus on face emotion identification tasks. Most studies, however, have been conducted in children and adolescents, leaving a gap in the literature on adults. This study sought to determine how state irritability, induced during a frustrating computer task, and trait irritability, measured through self-report questionnaires, related to the performance of seventy-five undergraduate students on a face emotion morphing task. Responses to anger were of particular interest and explored through a hostile attribution bias. During the task participants viewed brief movies of faces morphing from a neutral to a 100% prototypical emotional facial expression and were asked to stop the movie when they detected the face emotion. Participants in the frustration condition and participants with high trait irritability were expected to require greater emotional intensity in a facial expression in order to identify non-angry emotions and less intensity in order to identify anger. Results indicated that, although the frustration manipulation was successful, participants in the frustration and non-frustration conditions identified emotions at equal intensities. Participants in the frustration condition also identified happiness – the most easily identifiable emotion, and anger at comparable intensities. Trait irritability was unrelated to overall emotion intensity but correlated with hostile attribution biases. These findings suggest that the study of irritability and emotion identification should distinguish between state and trait irritability.