The Affective Ising Model: A computational account of human affect dynamics

Tim Loossens, Merijn Mestdagh, Egon Dejonckheere, Peter Kuppens, Francis Tuerlinckx, Stijn Verdonck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The human affect system is responsible for producing the positive and negative feelings that color and guide our lives. At the same time, when disrupted, its workings lie at the basis of the occurrence of mood disorder. Understanding the functioning and dynamics of the affect system is therefore crucial to understand the feelings that people experience on a daily basis, their dynamics across time, and how they can become dysregulated in mood disorder. In this paper, a nonlinear stochastic model for the dynamics of positive and negative affect is proposed called the Affective Ising Model (AIM). It incorporates principles of statistical mechanics, is inspired by neurophysiological and behavioral evidence about auto-excitation and mutual inhibition of the positive and negative affect dimensions, and is intended to better explain empirical phenomena such as skewness, multimodality, and non-linear relations of positive and negative affect. The AIM is applied to two large experience sampling studies on the occurrence of positive and negative affect in daily life in both normality and mood disorder. It is examined to what extent the model is able to reproduce the aforementioned non-Gaussian features observed in the data, using two sightly different continuous-time vector autoregressive (VAR) models as benchmarks. The predictive performance of the models is also compared by means of leave-one-out cross-validation. The results indicate that the AIM is better at reproducing non-Gaussian features while their performance is comparable for strictly Gaussian features. The predictive performance of the AIM is also shown to be better for the majority of the affect time series. The potential and limitations of the AIM as a computational model approximating the workings of the human affect system are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1007860
JournalPLOS Computational Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect
  • Computer Simulation
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological


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