Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Winer, Eric Samuel

Committee Member

DeShong, Hilary L.

Committee Member

McKinney, Cliff

Committee Member

Oliveros, Arazais

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only


Applied Psychology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


Distress tolerance is often defined as one’s ability to tolerate and withstand negative and/or uncomfortable emotional states (Simons & Gaher, 2005; Zvolensky et al., 2001). However, after nearly two decades of research, there is still no consensus on how to best conceptualize and measure distress tolerance. A historical account of the conceptualization and measurement of distress tolerance demonstrates that the distress tolerance literature may have missed a crucial step in theory development: obtaining a thorough understanding of the concept in question (Dubin, 1969). Without adequately addressing this important step in theory development, it is likely that continued efforts to research distress tolerance will ultimately fail to progress science in a meaningful way. Thus, the goal of this study was to conduct an in-depth, mixed methods investigation into how individuals define key terms used in self-report measures of distress tolerance: “distress” and “upset,” and what (if any) intraindividual or domain-specific differences they report. Thematic analysis showed no consensus on participants’ understandings of the key terms—a finding that poses deep questions regarding its potential utility to advance knowledge in the field of psychopathology. The thematic analysis revealed important intraindividual differences in distress tolerance that can aid in future investigation.