Background: Previous research has suggested that the way bipolar patients respond to depressive mood impacts on the future course of the illness, with rumination prolonging depression and risk-taking possibly triggering hypomania. However, the relationship over time between variables such as mood, self-esteem, and response style to negative affect is complex and has not been directly examined in any previous study - an important limitation, which the present study seeks to address. Methods: In order to maximize ecological validity, individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder (N = 48) reported mood, self-esteem and response styles to depression, together with contextual information, up to 60 times over a period of six days, using experience sampling diaries. Entries were cued by quasi-random bleeps from digital watches. Longitudinal multilevel models were estimated, with mood and self-esteem as predictors of subsequent response styles. Similar models were then estimated with response styles as predictors of subsequent mood and self-esteem. Cross-sectional associations of daily-life correlates with symptoms were also examined. Results: Cross-sectionally, symptoms of depression as well as mania were significantly related to low mood and self-esteem, and their increased fluctuations. Longitudinally, low mood significantly predicted rumination, and engaging in rumination dampened mood at the subsequent time point. Furthermore, high positive mood (marginally) instigated high risk-taking, and in turn engaging in risk-taking resulted in increased positive mood. Adaptive coping (i.e. problem-solving and distraction) was found to be an effective coping style in improving mood and self-esteem. Conclusions: This study is the first to directly test the relevance of response style theory, originally developed to explain unipolar depression, to understand symptom changes in bipolar disorder patients. The findings show that response styles significantly impact on subsequent mood but some of these effects are modulated by current mood state. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.