ArticlePDF Available
Running head: DYSPHORIC RUMINATION
The Consequences of Dysphoric Rumination
Sonja Lyubomirsky and Chris Tkach
University of California, Riverside
Reference: Lyubomirsky, S., & Tkach, C. (2003). The consequences of dysphoric rumination.
In C. Papageorgiou & A. Wells (Eds.), Rumination: Nature, theory, and treatment of negative
thinking in depression (pp. 21-41). Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons
2
The Consequences of Dysphoric Rumination
Sonja Lyubomirsky and Chris Tkach
University of California, Riverside
Many people believe that, when they become depressed or dysphoric, they should try to
focus inwardly and evaluate their feelings and their situation in order to gain self-insight and
find solutions that might ultimately resolve their problems and relieve their depressive
symptoms (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993; Papageorgiou & Wells, 2001a, 2001b;
Watkins & Baracaia, 2001). Challenging this assumption, numerous studies over the past two
decades have shown that repetitive rumination about the implications of one's depressive
symptoms actually maintains those symptoms, impairs one’s ability to solve problems, and
ushers in a host of negative consequences (see Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991, 1996, for reviews). In
this chapter, we describe in detail a ruminative style of responding to depressed mood and
review both experimental and correlational research documenting its many adverse
consequences.
Ruminative Responses to Negative Mood
Ruminative responses to negative mood and other depressive symptoms are thoughts
and behaviors that repetitively focus the individual’s attention on his or her negative feelings
and the nature and implications of those feelings (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). For example,
when feeling depressed or dysphoric, some people isolate themselves to brood about the
problems at the root of their distress (e.g., “My children are too much for me to handle”)
without taking action to solve those problems, or dwell about the causes and consequences of
their depressive symptoms (e.g., “Why haven’t I been able to just snap out of this?”) without
doing anything constructive to relieve those symptoms (Lyubomirsky, Tucker, Caldwell, &
Berg, 1999; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1996). Other examples include thinking about how alone,
unmotivated, lethargic, and hopeless one feels (e.g., “I just can’t get going”) and worrying
about the implications of one’s state of mind (e.g., “What if I can’t muster the energy to go to
3
work tomorrow?”). Although such thoughts may naturally arise for anyone who experiences a
depressed mood, some people persist in ruminating on the meanings, causes, and consequences
of their feelings and symptoms without taking action to address their situation or to distract
themselves. Indeed, the tendency to engage in rumination in response to negative moods
appears to be both a relatively common (Rippere, 1977) and stable coping style (Nolen-
Hoeksema, Morrow, & Fredrickson, 1993; Nolen-Hoeksema, Parker, & Larson, 1994). For
example, in one study, 83% of students who recorded their daily moods for 30 consecutive
days showed consistent styles of responding to their negative moods (e.g., by ruminating or not
ruminating) within the same day and across all days (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993).
Although dysphoric individuals may be hoping that their ruminations will help them
solve their problems or relieve their symptoms, correlational studies have shown that people
who engage in passive rumination are actually less likely to use active, planful problem solving
to cope with problems or negative life events (Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991; see also
Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989). An adaptive and instrumental alternative that we have
investigated is to use pleasant or neutral distractions to lift one’s mood and relieve one's
depressive symptoms; and only then, if necessary, to undertake problem solving. Distracting
responses are thoughts and behaviors that help divert one’s attention away from one's
depressed mood and its consequences and turn it to pleasant or benign thoughts and activities
that are absorbing, engaging, and capable of providing positive reinforcement (Nolen-
Hoeksema, 1991; cf. Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) -- for example, going for a run or a bike ride,
seeing a movie with friends, or concentrating on a project at work. Effective distractions do
not include inherently dangerous or self-destructive activities, such as reckless driving, heavy
drinking, drug abuse, or aggressive behavior, which may be distracting in the short-term but
harmful in the long run. Indeed, engaging in such behaviors has been found to be significantly
correlated with using ruminative, not distracting, responses to cope with depressed mood
(Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991). Distracting oneself with negative thoughts while
depressed is also unlikely to be successful (Wenzlaff, Wegner, & Roper, 1988).
4
Having described what dysphoric ruminative responses are, we now turn our attention
to what they are not. Although recent interest in ruminative thinking (e.g., Wyer, 1996) has
prompted a number of reconceptualizations of rumination -- e.g., as reflecting a broad class of
instrumentally-oriented recurring thoughts in response to goal discrepancies (Martin & Tesser,
1996) – we conceptualize ruminative responses to dysphoria as generally not adaptive or
instrumental and as frequently occurring in the absence of goal discrepancy reduction (cf.
Nolen-Hoeksema, 1996; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991; see also Erber & Wegner, 1996;
Linville, 1996; Waenke & Schmid, 1996). For example, ruminative responses differ from
structured problem solving in that they involve thinking about one's depressive symptoms and
their meanings without actively doing anything to alleviate those symptoms or making any
decisions or concrete plans of action. Although ruminations are often problem-focused
(Lyubomirsky et al., 1999, Study 2), correlational studies have shown that people who engage
in passive emotion-focused and self-focused rumination are actually less likely to endorse the
use of active, structured problem solving to cope with problems or stressful circumstances
(Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991; see also Carver et al., 1989).
Ruminative responses also differ, both theoretically and empirically, from the
depressive self-focusing style (Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987) and from private self-
consciousness (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). Pyszczynski, Greenberg, and colleagues
emphasize that the defining feature of their depressive style is the focus on insurmountable
discrepancies between ideal and real self-images following failure (cf. Pyszczynski, Greenberg,
Hamilton, & Nix, 1991, p.540). This focus on self-discrepancies, they argue, can maintain
depression. In contrast, ruminative responses are simply thoughts and behaviors that maintain
one's attention on one's existing distress or depressive symptoms and need not involve
concerns about personal failures. Similarly, whereas private self-consciousness is defined as a
general tendency to chronically self-analyze regardless of one's mood (Fenigstein et al., 1975),
we define rumination specifically as a response to an existing negative mood. Finally,
dysphoric ruminative thought should be distinguished from worry, which primarily consists of
5
negative thoughts and expectations about perceived future threats; from traumatic ruminations,
which are intrusive thoughts about a specific trauma; and from emotion-focused coping, which
includes a mixed collection of responses to a negative life event, including participation in
distracting activities, wishful thinking, and suppression or denial.
The Consequences of Rumination
Although many people feel compelled to ruminate about themselves and their problems
when experiencing dysphoria or depression, converging empirical evidence suggests that such
a coping style is associated with numerous deleterious outcomes. The most powerful evidence
for the adverse effects of rumination comes from experimental studies that have recruited
naturally dysphoric participants and induced them to ruminate in the laboratory (i.e., by
instructing them to focus on their feelings, physical symptoms, and personal characteristics)
and then assessed these participants’ moods, cognitions, or behavior immediately after they
have ruminated (e.g., Lyubomirsky et al., 1999; Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993,
1995; Lyubomirsky, Caldwell, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1993;
see also Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990, which used an induction of sad mood).
Alternatively, in other investigations, researchers have assessed individual differences in
ruminative style using the Response Styles Questionnaire (RSQ; e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema &
Morrow, 1991; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993, 1994), a measure of chronic responses to
negative moods, and have related scores on the RSQ to other variables of interest using cross-
sectional or longitudinal designs (e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema et al, 1994, Nolen-Hoeksema,
McBride, & Larson, 1997). Although the correlational nature of the latter studies does not
permit inferences regarding causal direction, these investigations are valuable in bolstering the
evidence from the induction studies, as well as for allowing researchers to generalize the
experimental laboratory findings to individuals with a history of dysphoric rumination in
naturalistic settings.
6
Negative Affect and Depressive Symptoms
The most widely studied consequence of dysphoric rumination is undoubtedly negative
mood. To date, numerous studies have shown that people who engage in ruminative responses
to dysphoria experience longer and more severe periods of depressed mood than those who use
distracting responses. For example, laboratory manipulations of rumination or self-focus (e.g.,
“Think about the kind of person you are”) maintain or enhance depressed mood in dysphoric or
clinically depressed participants, whereas distraction or external-focus manipulations (e.g.,
“Think about the size of the Statue of Liberty”) produce significant relief from depressed mood
(Gibbons et al., 1985; Lyubomirsky et al., 1998, 1999; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990;
Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1993; Papageorgiou & Wells, 2000; Trask & Sigmon, 1999;
Watkins & Teasdale, 2001; Wells, 1990). Importantly, manipulations of rumination have been
found not to induce depressed mood in nondysphoric individuals (e.g., Lyubomirsky et al.,
1998, 1999; Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993, 1995; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema,
1990; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1993), suggesting that it is the combination of dysphoria
and rumination that maintains depressed mood.
Studies of naturally-occurring dysphoria (e.g., due to stress or traumatic life events)
have further shown that people who habitually respond to their negative moods with passive,
repetitive rumination report longer and more severe periods of dysphoria than those who
manage their mood with pleasant, distracting activities (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993, 1994,
1997; Nolen-Hoeksema & C. G. Davis, 1999; Nolen-Hoeksema & Larson, 1999; Nolen-
Hoeksema, Larson, & Grayson, 1999; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991; Roberts, Gilboa, &
Gotlib, 1998; Schwartz & Koenig, 1996; Segerstrom, Tsao, Alden, & Craske, 2000; Wood,
Saltzberg, Neale, Stone, & Rachmiel, 1990). For example, Nolen-Hoeksema and colleagues
have conducted several longitudinal studies of the response styles of bereaved individuals. In
one such study, caretaking relatives of terminally-ill patients who showed a more ruminative
style (as assessed by the RSQ) were more depressed 6 months after their loved one had died,
even after controlling for initial depression levels, social support, and concurrent stressors
7
(Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1994; see Bodnar & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1994, for similar results).
Similarly, men whose partners had recently died of AIDS were at a greater risk for
psychological distress both 1 month and 12 months after the loss if they evidenced negative
ruminative thoughts during free-response interviews (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1997).
Other investigations have examined people’s chronic responses to traumatic events, as
well as to everyday stress and strain. For example, in one study, Stanford University students
who reported a tendency to ruminate in an assessment conducted 2 weeks before the 1989 San
Francisco area earthquake were more dysphoric 10 days and 7 weeks after the earthquake than
students who did not have ruminative tendencies, even after their levels of depressed mood
before the earthquake were statistically controlled (Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991).
Furthermore, a study of community-dwelling adults revealed a significant association between
ruminative response styles and protracted periods of depressive symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema,
2000; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999). And, in a daily diary study, the more frequently students
reported engaging in ruminative responses to their naturally-occurring negative moods, the
longer their periods of depressed mood, even after taking into account the initial severity of the
mood (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993).
Although the majority of research on the relationship between rumination and negative
mood has been focused on dysphoric or depressed affect, similar findings have been reported
for other negative moods, such as anxiety (Fritz, 1999; Schwartz & Koenig, 1996; Segerstrom
et al., 2000) and anger (Rusting & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998, Studies 1 and 3). Ruminative
responses have also been found to be associated with clinically-significant psychiatric
symptoms, including suicidal ideation (Eshun, 2000) and signs of post-traumatic stress (Nolen-
Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991).
Unlike earlier research on dysphoric rumination, recent studies have increasingly
assessed major depression in participants to determine whether rumination has similar effects
for clinical levels of depressive symptoms. For example, prospective longitudinal studies have
found that initially nondepressed individuals who have a ruminative style of responding to
8
negative mood are more likely to experience a major depressive episode (APA, 1987, 1994)
from 1 to 2.5 years later (Just & Alloy, 1997; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000; Nolen-Hoeksema et al.,
1999; Spasojevic & Alloy, 2001), and more inclined to have severe depressive symptoms (Just
& Alloy, 1997; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000), than individuals without such a style. Furthermore, a
large longitudinal study of over 1100 community-based adults showed that those who
evidenced both clinical depression and a ruminative style at the initial assessment had
relatively more severe and longer-lasting depressive symptoms one year later, were less likely
to show remission of their depression, and more likely to have symptoms of anxiety (Nolen-
Hoeksema, 2000; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999). Similarly, a study of unipolar depressed in-
patients found that those who showed a ruminative style after being discharged had higher
levels of depression and were more inclined to still show signs of a major depressive episode
after 4 months (Kuehner & Weber, 1999). These studies suggest that rumination may have a
deteriorating effect on the course of depressive episodes in clinically depressed patients.
Negatively-Biased Thinking
Many investigations to date have provided evidence that dysphoric rumination
negatively biases people’s thinking. For example, in laboratory studies, dysphoric participants
induced to ruminate, relative to nondysphorics or those induced to distract, have been found to
give more pessimistic attributions for interpersonal problems and upsetting experiences (e.g.,
“I always seem to fail”) and to chose more negatively-biased and distorted interpretations of
hypothetical life events (e.g., minimizing their successes and overgeneralizing from their
failures) (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999, Study 2; Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995, Study 1;
see also Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Burling, & Tibbs, 1992), as well as to make more negative
self-evaluations (e.g., “I’m unattractive” or “My problems are unsolvable”) and to feel less
control over their lives (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999). In other experimental studies, as compared
to distraction, rumination in the presence of a depressed mood led students to spontaneously
retrieve more negative memories from their recent past (e.g., “My girl cheated on me in Santa
Barbara”) and to recall negative events (such as “my parents punished me unfairly”) as having
9
occurred more frequently in their lives (Lyubomirsky et al., 1998; see also McFarland &
Buehler, 1998, Study 2; Pyszczynski, Hamilton, Herring, & Greenberg, 1989). Dysphoric
ruminators also have been shown to make relatively more gloomy predictions about positive
events in their future (e.g., “I won’t have many friends after I graduate”) (Lyubomirsky &
Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995, Study 2; see also Pyszczynski, Holt, & Greenberg, 1987, Studies 2
and 3) and to have low expectations for the likelihood of solving their problems (Lyubomirsky
et al., 1999, Studies 1 and 3) and engaging in fun activities (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema,
1993, Study 1). In all of these studies, dysphoric participants instructed to distract for 8
minutes have proven to be no more pessimistic or negative in their thinking than
nondysphorics (see also Pyszczynski et al., 1987, 1989).
A revealing set of results come from a study in which students’ actual ruminative
thoughts, as spoken into an audiotape recorder, were coded by judges (Lyubomirsky et al.,
1999, Study 2). Rumination led dysphoric students to mull over their most troubling problems,
such as declining school performance, financial woes, and conflicts with family members. At
the same time, those who engaged in rumination while depressed were inclined to be negative,
self-critical, and likely to blame themselves for these problems (e.g., thinking “I’m lazy” or
“I’ve always had trouble keeping my friends”); in addition, they showed reduced self-
confidence and optimism (e.g., “I’ll never pass Biology”), and diminished feelings of control
(“I’m lost when it comes to my parents”). By contrast, the ruminative thoughts of
nondysphorics were rated as significantly more positive, optimistic, and less problem-focused.
Corroborating evidence was provided in another study, in which students prepared written
“thought samples” after either being instructed to ruminate or to distract (Lyubomirsky, Kasri,
& Zehm, 2002, Study 1). Dysphoric ruminators displayed relatively more negatively-biased
thoughts in general (e.g., “College is too hard”) and about themselves (e.g., “I feel all alone”)
throughout the study session.
Although correlational studies documenting a link between a tendency to ruminate and
depressogenic, pessimistic thinking can offer only tentative conclusions regarding the direction
10
of influence, such studies provide insights into the thoughts of “natural” ruminators, permitting
greater external validity and bolstering the already rich experimental evidence. For example,
in a study of 137 students, scores for ruminative style were significantly correlated with a
pessimistic attributional style (e.g., stable, global, and internal explanations of negative events),
maladaptive attitudes (e.g., pessimism, low expectations of control, and perfectionism), and
self-criticism (e.g., “If I fail to live up to expectations, I feel unworthy”) (Spasojevic & Alloy,
2001). In investigations of community-dwelling adults, ruminative style has been found to be
associated with a pessimistic outlook (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1994) and a reduced sense of
mastery over one’s life (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999; Nolen-Hoeksema & Jackson, in press;
see also Waenke & Schmid, 1996). Corroborating the results from the rumination induction
studies, individuals with a tendency to ruminate have also been found to express negatively-
biased thoughts in free associations, to evaluate both themselves (Ward, Lyubomirsky, Sousa,
& Nolen-Hoeksema, 2002) and their families (Aymanns, Filipp, & Klauer, 1995) in an
unfavorable way, to recall negatively-biased memories (McFarland & Buehler, 1998, Studies
3, 4, and 5), and to show low self-confidence in their plans (Ward et al., 2002).
Poor Problem Solving
In addition to enhancing negatively-biased thinking, rumination in the context of a
depressed mood has been shown to impair people’s problem-solving skills. Specifically,
dysphoric rumination appears to interfere with one or more of the “stages” of the problem-
solving process – that is, 1) definition or appraisal of the problem, 2) generation and selection
of alternative solutions, and 3) solution implementation (e.g., D’Zurilla & Goldfried, 1971).
Studies have provided evidence that ruminative focusing leads dysphoric individuals to
appraise their problems as overwhelming and unsolvable (stage 1; Lyubomirsky et al., 1999,
Studies 1 and 3), to fail to come up with effective problem solutions (stage 2; Lyubomirsky et
al., 1999, Study 3; Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995, Study 3), and to be reluctant to
implement them (stage 3; Lyubomirsky et al., 1999, Studies 1 and 3; see also Lyubomirsky &
Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993; Ward et al., 2002).
11
To date, the strongest evidence for the thesis that rumination impairs problem solving
comes from an experiment in which, after engaging in either a ruminative or distracting task,
students were instructed to imagine themselves experiencing several interpersonal and
achievement problems (e.g., “a friend seems to be avoiding you”) (cf. Platt & Spivack, 1975)
and then to write detailed descriptions of the steps they would take to resolve each problem
(Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1995, Study 1; for a replication, see Lyubomirsky et al.,
1999, Study 3). Dysphoric students who ruminated generated less effective solutions to the
hypothetical problems than dysphorics who distracted or nondysphoric participants who
ruminated or distracted (see also Brockner, 1979; Brockner & Hulton, 1978; Kuhl, 1981;
Strack, Blaney, Ganellen, & Coyne, 1985).
Formulating an effective solution to one’s personal problems is clearly an important
step of the problem-solving process. However, even once a promising plan has been
conceived, an equally important step is to actually go ahead and carry it out. Unfortunately,
this part appears to be difficult for dysphoric ruminators. For example, in one laboratory study,
dysphoric students who ruminated about themselves came up with perfectly good solutions to
their most pressing current problems (e.g., “study harder” or “spend less money”), but showed
a reduced likelihood of actually implementing those solutions (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999,
Studies 1 and 3; see also Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993, Study 1).
Naturalistic, correlational studies further reinforce the laboratory evidence. People with
ruminative tendencies report being relatively less inclined to engage in active problem-solving
during stressful times (Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991), tend to show maladaptive and even
dangerous responses to interpersonal offenses (e.g., “I’ll make him pay”; McCullough et al.,
1998, 2001), and express reduced satisfaction and commitment to their solutions and plans
(Ward et al., 2002).
Impaired Motivation and Inhibition of Instrumental Behavior
One of the ways that ruminative responses to depressed mood can interfere with
effective problem solving is by sapping people’s motivation and initiative. Rumination
12
maintains one’s focus on one’s depressive symptoms, which may persuade dysphorics that they
lack the efficacy and wherewithal to engage in constructive behavior – for example, to carry
out solutions to problems or to participate in mood-alleviating activities. Indeed, the results of
several studies suggest that people who focus on themselves and their feelings in the context of
a negative mood show reduced motivation to initiate instrumental behavior. For example,
Lyubomirsky and colleagues (1999) asked students to generate their three biggest problems
and then to come up with possible solutions to these problems. Rumination led dysphoric
respondents to come up with solutions to their problems that they believed to be effective, but,
at the same time, it lowered the likelihood that they would actually take action to solve these
problems. Supporting these findings, a previous study revealed that although dysphoric
ruminators recognized that pleasant, distracting activities would lift their mood, they were
unwilling to do them (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993, Study 1; see also Wenzlaff et
al., 1988).
The consequences of ruminative thinking for the inhibition of instrumental action can
be troublesome or inconvenient at best, and serious and dangerous at worst. In the domain of
health, laboratory and field studies suggest that women with chronic ruminative styles suffer
heightened distress upon discovering potential health symptoms (e.g., a breast lump) and,
consequently, delay seeking a diagnosis (Lyubomirsky, Kasri, & Chang, 2002). For example,
a recent naturalistic investigation showed that women with breast cancer with a tendency to
ruminate reported having delayed the presentation of their initial cancer symptoms to a
physician more than two months longer than did nonruminators (Study 2). Notably, the
relation between rumination and delay was not mediated by anxiety or cancer-related fears. In
another set of studies, undergraduate ruminators engaged in community problem solving (i.e.,
formulating a plan to overhaul their university’s housing system or to improve the course
curriculum) were found to be more reluctant than nonruminators to put into effect the plans
that they devised (Ward et al., 2002). In sum, ruminators’ motivational deficits may inhibit
them from enacting solutions to problems or taking appropriate action in various situations.
13
Impaired Concentration and Cognition
Rumination in the context of dysphoria has also been found to interfere with
concentration and to impair performance on cognitive tasks. In a series of three experimental
laboratory studies, dysphoric students who ruminated about their feelings and personal
characteristics reported diminished concentration on academic tasks, needed additional time
during reading and test-taking, and displayed impaired work strategies and performance
(Lyubomirsky, Kasri, & Zehm, 2002; see also Kuhl, 1981; Strack et al., 1985). For example,
in one study, as compared to dysphoric distractors, dysphoric ruminators who were instructed
to read a passage from a graduate school entrance exam reported more difficulty concentrating
and more frequent interfering, off-task thoughts (e.g., “I thought about the difficulty of the
task”), were slower in reading the passage, and more likely to return to previously-read
material. In yet another study, dysphoric ruminators were less proficient at catching spelling
and grammatical mistakes on a page of written prose than dysphoric distractors or
nondysphoric students. Again, rumination alone, in the absence of a depressed mood, was not
associated with impaired concentration in these studies
Investigations using cognitive laboratory tasks highlight possible cognitive deficits
associated with rumination. For example, depressed or dysphoric participants who engaged in
ruminative thinking were more likely to show evidence of a type of “overgeneral” (i.e.,
categoric) autobiographical memory implicated in the maintenance of depression (Watkins &
Teasdale, 2001; Watkins, Teasdale, & Williams, 2000), as well as to exhibit memory
impairments in a controlled retrieval task (Hertel, 1998), than participants who did not focus or
ruminate about themselves. Furthermore, a recent study found that individuals with a
ruminative style made more perseverative errors on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, a task
that requires cognitive flexibility and set shifting, and took more time on a measure of
psychomotor speed, than did nonruminators (R. N. Davis & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000). Finally,
dysphoric students induced to focus on themselves or on their feelings have been found to
perform relatively worse on cognitive discrimination (Kuhl, 1981) and anagram-solving tasks
14
(Strack et al., 1985). Although the precise implications of the cognitive impairments
demonstrated in these studies are not yet clear, individuals with a ruminative style may be at
risk for performance decrements in educational and occupational domains.
Increased Stress and Problems
The array of adverse consequences associated with dysphoric rumination can conspire
to produce additional negative effects, including those for people’s health, relationships, and
levels of stress and emotional adjustment. It is worth noting, however, that research evidence
for these effects comes solely from correlational investigations.
Threats to physical health. For example, as described above, relative to nonruminators,
women with a ruminative style have been shown to delay help seeking for a serious physical
symptom – a breast lump (Lyubomirsky, Kasri, & Chang, 2002). The results of this work are
significant in light of research findings that the longer a woman waits to seek a diagnosis after
discovering a breast symptom, the more advanced her cancer will be, and the lower likelihood
of her survival (e.g., Neave, Mason, & Kay, 1990). Although research in the health domain is
scarce, other correlational studies have also found associations between rumination and health
risks. For example, a tendency towards rumination was related to low compliance with one’s
medical regimen among a diverse set of cancer patients in Germany (Aymanns et al., 1995),
and emotion-focused rumination predicted rehospitalization four months after a coronary
event, such as a heart attack, among first-time patients (Fritz, 1999).
Impaired social relationships. The interpersonal relationships of dysphoric ruminators
also clearly suffer. Although to date only cross-sectional research has been conducted to
investigate this issue, the results are quite consistent. First, chronic ruminators appear to
behave in ways that are counterproductive to their relationships with family, friends, and even
strangers. For example, several studies have found an association between rumination and the
desire for revenge after an interpersonal transgression or slight (e.g., “I want to see her hurt and
miserable”) (McCullough et al., 1998, 2001), as well as increased aggression following a
provocation (Collins & Bell, 1997). Other investigations have provided evidence that
15
ruminators, as compared to nonruminators, suffer from “unmitigated communion” (i.e., the
tendency to assume undue responsibility for the well-being of others; Nolen-Hoeksema &
Jackson, in press), dependency (e.g., “I often think about the danger of losing someone who is
close to me”), and neediness (e.g., “I urgently need things that only other people can provide”)
(Spasojevic & Alloy, 2001). Thus, it is not surprising that people who ruminate in response to
depressed moods are perceived unfavorably by others (Schwartz & McCombs Thomas, 1995).
These socially maladaptive tendencies may also account in part for the greater social friction
that chronic ruminators experience following a trauma (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1994; Nolen-
Hoeksema & C. G. Davis, 1999), as well as for their reports of receiving inadequate social
support (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1994; Nolen-Hoeksema & C. G. Davis, 1999) and lower
quality instrumental family support, in particular (Aymanns et al., 1995). For example, in the
study by Aymanns and colleagues, the families of cancer patients with a ruminative style were
more likely to avoid communicating with them about the disease and less inclined to urge the
patients to take personal initiative.
Stress and emotional adjustment. Although many people ruminate because they
believe that it will help solve their problems, ironically, ruminative responses to distress have
been associated with ever-greater problems and stress. Nolen-Hoeksema and colleagues have
documented that, over a year-long period, ruminators report more increases in stressful events
in their lives (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999), and more social friction and social isolation
(Nolen-Hoeksema & C. G. Davis, 1999), than do nonruminators (see also Nolen-Hoeksema et
al., 1994). In another study, caregivers of relatives with progressive dementia reported greater
stress and fewer social roles and social contacts after their loved one’s death if they had a
tendency to ruminate (Bodnar & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1994). Not surprisingly, dysphoric
rumination also appears to be associated with low morale and poor emotional adjustment. For
example, following a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, the diagnosis of a serious
illness, or the death of a partner or close relative, individuals with a chronic ruminative style, as
compared to nonruminators, have been found to express less positive mood and fewer positive
16
states of mind (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1997), to show poorer coping and worse emotional
adjustment (Fritz, 1999), to experience intrusive and avoidant thoughts (Nolen-Hoeksema et
al., 1997), as well as other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Nolen-Hoeksema &
Morrow, 1991), and to exhibit maladaptive attitudes (Spasojevic & Alloy, 2001).
A Vicious Cycle
The research reviewed above paints a fairly grim portrait of the many adverse outcomes
likely to characterize an individual with a tendency to ruminate in response to his or her
depressive symptoms. Although the empirical evidence for each of these negative
consequences is oftentimes drawn from separate research investigations, it is important to note
that the various outcomes are likely to have reciprocal influences on one another and thus
cannot be truly disentangled. We suggest that the combination of rumination and dysphoria
activates a vicious cycle among negative affect and depressive symptoms, negatively-biased
thinking, poor problem solving, impaired motivation and inhibited instrumental behavior,
impaired concentration and cognition, and increased stress and problems (see Figure 1).
Furthermore, each part (or parts) of this vicious cycle may influence and “feed back” onto
another part (or parts), and the sequence of relationships may follow a variety of paths.
As an illustration of one possible sequence of relationships, rumination in the context of
a depressed mood may amplify the effects of the negative mood on thinking by selectively
priming mood-relevant information and activating networks of negative memories, beliefs,
expectations, and schemas (e.g., Bower, 1991; Forgas, 1991; Teasdale, 1983). In turn, the
resulting negatively-biased judgments and interpretations may maintain, or even enhance,
depressed mood, nourishing the vicious cycle between depressed mood and thinking.
Depressed mood plus rumination may similarly enhance the effects of negative mood on
problem solving and motivation (e.g., by heightening self-doubts about one’s ability to tackle
problems or by depressing the motivation and resourcefulness to do so) and instrumental
behavior (e.g., by impairing one’s concentration or cognitive agility). For example, when a
chronic ruminator is feeling depressed, her personal problems and stresses can become
17
overwhelming and even take on threatening proportions. Consequently, she may allow her
overly pessimistic expectations to inhibit herself from taking appropriate risks. Alternatively,
her negative thoughts may promote self-fulfilling prophecies in which she acts on her negative
conclusions and expectations in ways that create trouble – for example, by confronting her
spouse about non-existent marital problems or by passing up a perfectly good job.
Furthermore, dysphoric ruminators may interpret their circumstances in a distorted and
pessimistic manner and retrieve unpleasant memories from their past to support their negative
conclusions. Consequently, they may take too long to think about how to resolve their
problems; they may generate poor solutions; or, alternatively, they may come up with good
solutions, but, given their reduced energy and motivation, be reluctant to initiate action to go
through with them. The final result is that the problems do not disappear, or worse, are
aggravated, thus maintaining or further exacerbating negative mood and adding more firewood
to feed the vicious cycle (see Figure 1).
As an illustration of yet another possible sequence of relationships, deficits in
concentration, motivation and instrumental behavior may reduce people’s effectiveness at work
and their facility in social situations, leading to strained relationships and lost business
opportunities, and, in turn, contributing to ever-greater problems and distress. For example,
dysphoric ruminators appear to have generally low expectations of control and to believe that
they lack the energy, resources, or ability to respond appropriately to their life situations. As a
result, they may fail to take constructive action or to enact appropriate solutions to problems.
Furthermore, their ruminative thoughts, which are often absorbing, compelling, and self-
perpetuating, are likely to intrude during both trivial and important everyday activities and
chores, thereby interfering with concentration and performance. For example, engaging in
dysphoric rumination could lead people to neglect important social cues during a conversation
with their boss, to miss an opportunity to present their views during a business meeting, or to
be inattentive to their child or spouse. In sum, by triggering a host of cognitive, motivational,
and behavioral deficits, dysphoric ruminators may unwittingly end up exacerbating their
18
problems and elevating their levels of stress, thus, further reinforcing their depressive
symptoms (see Figure 1). Indeed, the ultimate negative consequence of dysphoric rumination
may be continued dysphoric rumination.
Future Directions and Implications
The results from numerous experimental and correlational investigations converge on
the conclusion that dysphoric rumination is associated with negative, and sometimes even
dangerous, outcomes. The research reviewed in this chapter highlights the consequences of
ruminative responses to depressed mood for negative affect and clinical depressive symptoms,
for negative, pessimistic thinking and ineffective problem solving, for impaired motivation,
concentration, and cognition, for the inhibition of instrumental action, and, finally, for
increased stress and problems. Undoubtedly, more research is needed to establish the
robustness and breadth of these effects, especially with more routine use of experimental
designs to allow for stronger causal inferences. For example, the domains of health and
interpersonal relationships have received relatively little empirical attention. Future
investigators could study the actual behavior of dysphoric individuals in social situations
immediately after they have ruminated, as well as determine how ruminators are perceived by
significant others, peers, and strangers. Furthermore, the health habits and health outcomes of
people induced to engage in rumination or who have a history of ruminative tendencies could
be examined.
Ideally, future researchers should use more sophisticated methodologies to bolster the
findings of the extant studies, which have almost exclusively relied on self-reports. Behavioral
and “real-time” measures, such as codings of videotaped behavior, informant records of
activities, or experience sampling methods (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987), could tap what
dysphoric ruminators “actually” do, rather than what they report doing or what they intend to
do – for example, in implementing solutions to problems (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999; Ward et
al., 2002) or in delaying help seeking for health symptoms (Lyubomirsky, Kasri, & Chang,
2002). Reaction time and physiological measures (e.g., assessments of cardiovascular and
19
immune parameters) could also be used to assess the effects of rumination on physical states
and on various aspects of cognition, as well on the “signatures” of the basic emotions (Frijda,
1986; Lazarus, 1991). Furthermore, a challenge for future investigators would be to develop
innovative ways to measure more directly such constructs as insight (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-
Hoeksema, 1993), motivation (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999), and concentration (Lyubomirsky,
Kasri, & Zehm, 2002).
Another direction for future research would be to extend and improve current measures
of ruminative style (i.e., the RSQ), as well as the procedures for inducing rumination in the
laboratory. For example, following recent research suggesting that ruminative responses may
be multi-dimensional in nature (Fritz, 1999; Roberts et al., 1998), researchers may wish to
consider developing separate measures of distinct components of rumination. Furthermore,
because tendencies to ruminate, as well as most of the outcome measures used in the research
in this area, are customarily measured via self-report, we must be vigilant of inherent
difficulties with this method. Participants may show systematic bias in their responses or be
simply unaware of their cognitive and affective experiences and thus unable to accurately
report them. For example, if ruminators are more attuned to their internal states than
nonruminators, they may report greater intensity or variability in their emotions and physical
symptoms. Nevertheless, we believe that the participants themselves are our best resources for
information about their own internal, subjective states. However, further research may benefit
from combining self-report assessments with more “objective” evaluations, such as informant
reports and behavioral observations.
Rumination inductions also suffer from their own special problems. For example,
because rumination occurs “in people’s heads,” researchers cannot verify whether participants
are actually doing what they are asked to do. Thus, despite the challenge, it is important to
develop effective and appropriate manipulation checks. Promising research directions also lie
in investigating the precise mechanisms by which rumination produces its deleterious effects.
For example, whether the critical feature of ruminative thoughts is their repetitive,
20
disorganized, image-based, or chaotic nature remains a question for the future. Finally, it is
essential to test the viability of the hypothesized ensuing vicious cycle. Alternative
technologies might be developed to capture the reciprocal and self-perpetuating influences
displayed in Figure 1 – for example, by separately manipulating each variable involved in the
vicious cycle or by using simultaneous on-line or reaction time assessments of these variables.
Future research also promises to determine whether the findings of the work described
here generalize to other populations within and outside of the United States and Western
Europe. Unfortunately, virtually all of the experimental studies of dysphoric rumination have
used undergraduate student samples, whereas many of the cross-sectional and longitudinal
studies have included diverse groups of community-dwelling adults. Furthermore, given the
existence of distinct cultural norms and expectations for desirable and appropriate ways to
respond to depressed mood and depressive symptoms, it is likely that the rates,
phenomenology, and effects of ruminative thought differ across cultural, national, and ethnic
boundaries. For example, in cultures that place a lower value on self-analysis and self-
understanding or ones that encourage or necessitate distraction (e.g., through work and
subsistence activity), episodes of dysphoric rumination may be short-circuited easily and
frequently, thus reducing the likelihood of them contaminating the ruminator’s subsequent
affect, cognition, and behavior.
Finally, and perhaps most important, applied research should test interventions to teach
individuals prone to ruminate alternative emotion regulation strategies in response to negative
feelings and stressful or traumatic life events. To break the vicious cycle, mood management
strategies, such as the types of cognitive control (Alford & Beck, 1997), attention training
(Papageorgiou & Wells, 2000; Wells, 1990), and behavioral (Lewinsohn, Munoz, Youngren, &
Zeiss, 1986) techniques taught by cognitive-behavioral therapists, can help alleviate depressive
symptoms and counter ruminative thoughts. Diminished levels of stress, problems, and
negatively-biased thinking, as well as increased motivation, concentration, initiative, and
problem-solving skills, will inevitably follow.
21
When asked, “What’s the thing to do when you’re feeling depressed?” fully one-third
of survey participants, ages 9 to 68, spontaneously mentioned reflecting on the reasons for their
dysphoric mood (Rippere, 1977). Women, in particular, have been observed to ruminate in
even greater numbers (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1996; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1999). Furthermore,
in a recent study, 80% of self-identified ruminators and 100% of individuals with major
depression reported various benefits to rumination, such as increased control over one’s
feelings and deeper self-understanding and insight into current problems (Papageorgiou &
Wells, 2001a; Watkins & Baracaia, 2000). Indeed, contemporary Western culture appears to
embrace the notion that contemplating one's feelings in the face of personal problems and
negative moods is valuable and adaptive. Our hope is that the force of the accumulating
research evidence will eventually erode this belief, so that millions of people can avoid
suffering the negative consequences of dysphoric rumination described herein.
22
References
Alford, B. A., & Beck, A. T. (1997). The integrative power of cognitive therapy. New York:
Guilford Press.
American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (3rd ed., revised). Washington DC: Author.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (4th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
Aymanns, P., Filipp, S-H., & Klauer, T. (1995). Family support and coping with cancer: Some
determinants and adaptive correlates. British Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 107-
124.
Bodnar, J. C., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1994). Caregiver depression after bereavement: Chronic
stress isn't over when it's over. Psychology and Aging, 9, 372-380.
Bower, G. H. (1991). Mood congruity of social judgments. In J.P. Forgas (Ed.), Emotion and
social judgments (pp. 31-53). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Brockner, J. (1979). The effects of self-esteem, success, failure, and self-consciousness on task
performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1732-1741.
Brockner, J., & Hulton, A. J. B. (1978). How to reverse the vicious cycle of low self-esteem:
The importance of attentional focus. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14,
564-578.
Carver, D. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A
theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-
283.
Collins, K., & Bell, R. (1997). Personality and aggression: The Dissipation-Rumination Scale.
Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 751-755.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper
& Row.
23
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Larson, R. (1987). Validity and reliability of the experience-sampling
method. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 175, 526-536.
Davis, R. N., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). Cognitive inflexibility among ruminators and
nonruminators. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 699-711.
D’Zurilla, T. J, & Goldfried, M. R. (1971). Problem solving and behavior modification.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 78, 107-126.
Erber, R., & Wegner, D. M. (1996). Ruminations on the rebound. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.).
Ruminative thoughts (pp. 73-79). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Eshun, S. (2000). Role of gender and rumination in suicide ideation: A comparison of college
samples from Ghana and the United States. Cross-Cultural Research: The Journal of
Comparative Social Science, 34, 250-263.
Fenigstein, A., Scheier, M., & Buss, A. H. (1975). Public and private self-consciousness:
Assessment and theory. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43, 522-527.
Forgas, J. (1991). Emotion and social judgments. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Fritz, H. L. (1999). The role of rumination in adjustment to a first coronary event. Dissertation
Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering, 60 (1-B), 0410.
Gibbons, F. X., Smith, T. W., Ingram, R. E., Pearce, K., Brehm, S. S., & Schroeder, D. (1985).
Self-awareness and self-confrontation: Effects of self-focused attention on members of
a clinical population. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 662-675.
Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Burling, J., & Tibbs, K. (1992). Depression, self-focused
attention, and the self-serving attributional bias. Personality and Individual Differences,
13, 959-965
Hertel, P. T. (1998). Relation between rumination and impaired memory in dysphoric moods.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 166-172.
Just, N., & Alloy, L. B. (1997). The response styles theory of depression: Tests and an
extension of the theory. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 221-229.
24
Kuehner, C., & Weber, I. (1999). Responses to depression in unipolar depressed patients: An
investigation of Nolen-Hoeksema's response styles theory. Psychological Medicine, 29,
1323-1333.
Kuhl, J. (1981). Motivational and functional helplessness: The moderating effect of state
versus action orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 155-170.
Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lewinsohn, P. M., Munoz, R. F., Youngren, M. A., & Zeiss, A. M. (1986). Control your
depression. New York: Prentice Hall.
Linville, P. (1996). Attention inhibition: Does it underlie ruminative thought? In R. S. Wyer,
Jr. (Ed.). Ruminative thoughts (pp. 121-133). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Lyubomirsky, S., Caldwell, N. D., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1998). Effects of ruminative and
distracting responses to depressed mood on retrieval of autobiographical memories.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 166-177.
Lyubomirsky, S., Kasri, F., & Chang, O. (2002). Ruminative style and delay of presentation of
breast cancer symptoms. Manuscript in preparation.
Lyubomirsky, S., Kasri, F., & Zehm, K. (in press). Dysphoric rumination impairs concentration
on academic tasks. Cognitive Therapy and Research.
Lyubomirsky, S., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1993). Self-perpetuating properties of dysphoric
rumination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 339-349.
Lyubomirsky, S., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1995). Effects of self-focused rumination on
negative thinking and interpersonal problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 69, 176-190.
Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K. L., Caldwell, N. D., & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor
problem solvers: Clues from the phenomenology of dysphoric rumination. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041-1060.
Martin, L. L., & Tesser, A. (1996). Some ruminative thoughts. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.),
Ruminative thoughts (pp. 1-47). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
25
McCullough, M. E., Bellah, C. G., Kilpatrick, S. D., & Johnson, J. L. (2001). Vengefulness:
Relationships with forgiveness, rumination, well-being, and the Big Five. Personality
and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 601-610.
McCullough, M. E., Rachal, K. C., Sandage, S. J., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Brown, S. W., &
Hight, T. L. (1998). Interpersonal forgiving in close relationships: II. Theoretical
elaboration and measurement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1586-
1603.
McFarland, C., & Buehler, R. (1998). The impact of negative affect on autobiographical
memory: The role of self-focused attention to moods. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 75, 1424-1440.
Morrow, J., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1990). Effects of responses to depression on the
remediation of depressive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58,
519-527.
Neave, L. M., Mason, B. H., & Kay, R. G. (1990). Does delay in diagnosis of breast cancer
affect survival? Breast Cancer Research Treatment, 15, 103-108.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1991). Responses to depression and their effects on the duration of
depressive episodes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100, 569-582.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1993). Sex differences in control of depression. In D. M. Wegner & J.
W. Pennebaker (Eds.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 306-324). Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1996). Chewing the cud and other ruminations. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.),
Ruminative thoughts (pp. 135-144). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed
anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504-511.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Davis, C. G. (1999). “Thanks for sharing that”: Ruminators and their
social support networks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 801-814.
26
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Jackson. S. (in press). Mediators of the gender difference in
rumination. Psychology of Women Quarterly.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Larson, J. (1999). Coping with loss. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Larson, J., & Grayson, C. (1999). Explaining the gender difference in
depressive symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1061-1072.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., McBride, A., & Larson, J. (1997). Rumination and psychological distress
among bereaved partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 855-862.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Morrow, J. (1991). A prospective study of depression and
posttraumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster: The 1989 Loma Prieta
earthquake. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 115-121.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Morrow, J. (1993). Effects of rumination and distraction on naturally
occurring depressed mood. Cognition and Emotion, 7, 561-570.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Morrow, J., & Fredrickson, B. L. (1993). Response styles and the
duration of episodes of depressed mood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 20-28.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Parker, L., & Larson, J. (1994). Ruminative coping with depressed mood
following loss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 92-104.
Papageorgiou, C., & Wells, A. (2000). Treatment of recurrent major depression with attention
training. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 7, 407-413.
Papageorgiou, C., & Wells, A. (2001a). Metacognitive beliefs about rumination in recurrent
major depression. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 8, 160-164.
Papageorgiou, C., & Wells, A. (2001b). Positive beliefs about depressive rumination:
Development and preliminary validation of a self-report scale. Behavior Therapy, 32,
13-26.
Platt, J. J., & Spivack, G. (1975). Manual for the Means-Ends Problem-Solving Procedure
(MEPS): A measure of interpersonal cognitive problem-solving skill. Philadelphia:
Hahneman Medical College and Hospital.
27
Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (1987). Self-regulatory perseveration and the depressive self-
focusing style: A self-awareness theory of reactive depression. Psychological Bulletin,
102, 122-138.
Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Hamilton, J. H., & Nix, G. (1991). On the relationship between
self-focused attention and psychological disorder: A critical reappraisal. Psychological
Bulletin, 110, 538-543.
Pyszczynski, T., Hamilton, J. C., Herring, F. H., & Greenberg, J. (1989). Depression, self-
focused attention, and the negative memory bias. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 57, 351-357.
Pyszczynski, T., Holt, K., & Greenberg, J. (1987). Depression, self-focused attention, and
expectancies for positive and negative future life events for self and others. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 994-1001.
Rippere, V. (1977). “What’s the thing to do when you’re feeling depressed?” -- A pilot study.
Behavior Research and Therapy, 15, 185-191.
Roberts, J. E., Gilboa, E., & Gotlib, I. H. (1998). Ruminative response style and vulnerability
to episodes of dysphoria: Gender, neuroticism, and episode duration. Cognitive Therapy
and Research, 22, 401-423.
Rusting, C. L., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1998). Regulating responses to anger: Effects of
rumination and distraction on angry mood. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 74, 790-803.
Schwartz, J. A. J., & Koenig, L. J. (1996). Response styles and negative affect among
adolescents. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20, 13-36.
Schwartz, J. L., & McCombs Thomas, A. (1995). Perceptions of coping responses exhibited in
depressed males and females. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10, 849-860.
Segerstrom, S. C., Tsao, J. C. I., Alden, L. E., & Craske, M. G. (2000). Worry and rumination:
Repetitive thought as a concomitant and predictor of negative mood. Cognitive Therapy
and Research, 24, 671-688.
28
Spasojevic, J., & Alloy, L. B. (2001). Rumination as a common mechanism relating depressive
risk to depression. Emotion, 1, 25-37.
Strack, S., Blaney, P. H., Ganellen, R. J., & Coyne, J. C. (1985). Pessimistic self-
preoccupation, performance deficits, and depression. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 49, 1076-1085.
Teasdale, J. D. (1983). Negative thinking in depression: Cause, effect, or reciprocal
relationship? Advances in Behavior Research and Therapy, 5, 3-26.
Trask, P. C., & Sigmon, S. T. (1999). Ruminating and distracting: The effects of sequential
tasks on depressed mood. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 23, 231-246.
Waenke, M., & Schmid, J. (1996). Rumination: When all else fails. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.),
Ruminative thoughts (pp. 177-187). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ward, A. H., Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (in press). Can’t quite
commit: Rumination and uncertainty. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Watkins, E., & Baracaia, S. (2001). Why do people ruminate in dysphoric moods? Personality
and Individual Differences, 30, 723-734.
Watkins, E., & Teasdale, J. D. (2001). Rumination and overgeneral memory in depression:
Effects of self-focus and analytic thinking. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 353-
357.
Watkins, E., Teasdale, J. D., & Williams, R. M. (2000). Decentring and distraction reduce
overgeneral autobiographical memory in depression. Psychological Medicine, 30, 911-
920.
Wells, A. (1990). Panic disorder in association with relaxation induced anxiety: An attention
training approach to treatment. Behavior Therapy, 21, 273-280.
Wenzlaff, R. M., Wegner, D. M., & Roper, D. W. (1988). Depression and mental control: The
resurgence of unwanted negative thoughts. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 55, 882-892.
29
Wood, J. V., Saltzberg, J. A., Neale, J. M., Stone, A. A., & Rachmiel, T. B. (1990). Self-
focused attention, coping responses, and distressed mood in everyday life. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1027-1036.
Wyer, Jr., R. S. (Ed.). (1996). Ruminative thoughts. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
30
Author Notes
Sonja Lyubomirsky and Chris Tkach, Department of Psychology, University of
California, Riverside.
This research was supported in part by a faculty intramural grant from the University of
California Academic Senate.
Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to Sonja Lyubomirsky,
Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521. Email:
sonja@citrus.ucr.edu
31
Figure 1. A vicious cycle between rumination, negative affect, and multiple adverse
consequences.
Negative
Affect
Rumination
+
Negatively-Biased
Thinking
Poor
Problem Solving
Impaired
Concentration
and
Cognition
Increased Stress
and
Problems
Negative Affect
and
Depressive
Symptoms
... Rumination and catastrophizing can make experiencing worse. According to Lyubomirsky and Tkach (2003), rumination, i.e. repeated return to thoughts about a certain problem, the causes of this problem, one's own helplessness or fears for the future, causes the persistence of depressive symptoms. Rumination as a cognitive strategy enhances negative human experiencing by the following mechanism: if a stressful/problematic situation arises, it leads to recurrence of thoughts about the problem or inability of the person to solve the problem, which strengthens the negative effect of the problem event on mental health, reduces the frequency of positive emotions and increases the frequency of negative emotions (Karabati, Ensari and Fiorentino, 2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
The aim of this research was to find out which factors influenced people who originally planned a summer holiday when surveyed at the time of pandemic peak and at the time of pandemic remission. The research was conducted on a representative sample of population of Slovakia surveyed via agency. Binary logistic regression has revealed that out of 18 tested demographic, economic, social and psychological variables, the intention to not go on a summer holiday at the time of pandemic peak was predicted by level of income deterioration, worries about Covid-19, subjective feeling of isolation and gender. At the time of the pandemic remission only two predictors were significant: worries about income deterioration and the subjective feeling of isolation. The lasting effect of the subjective feeling of isolation and the missing effect of personal psychological characteristics are discussed.
... It can thus prolong the duration and increase the severity of depression. Trait rumination may also result in many harmful outcomes, including depressive symptoms, negatively biased thinking, poor problem-solving, impaired motivation and inhibition of instrumental behavior, impaired cognition, and increased stress levels [8]. Moreover, rumination is detrimental to an individual's occupational performance, such as attention span in academic tasks, problem-solving abilities, interpersonal relationships, and social functioning [9][10][11]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives: Rumination, a response style characterized by self-reflection loops of negative thoughts, tends to exacerbate depressive symptoms and may impair daily functional behaviors of individuals with depression. However, the specific impacts of rumination on activity participation remain unclear. The current study was aimed at examining the differences in daily activity participation profiles between clinically depressed people with higher versus lower rumination tendencies, with the hope to provide insightful suggestions for improving the quality of life of ruminative individuals with major depression. Methods: We recruited 143 participants with a depression-related diagnosis from psychiatric daycare centers or clinics and analyzed the differences in activity participation profiles between individuals with higher versus lower rumination tendencies. Results: Although compared to those with lower rumination tendencies, participants with higher rumination tendencies spent a longer time in activity participation; they experienced lower participation quality during these activities. Furthermore, their activity participation was primarily motivated by meeting others' expectations rather than self-interest. They also misattributed participation restriction to "lack of family support," indicating that the unhealthy rumination pattern might be the cause of their lack of positive feelings from engaging in meaningful daily activities. Conclusions: The current results suggest that the unhealthy motivation behind activity participation seems to be an important factor that decreases the quality of participation in individuals with higher rumination tendency. Establishing a healthy motivation for activity participation is therefore critical for improving their quality of participation. As an initial step, OT interventions could put a focus on helping them clarify and escape from the source of negative rumination cycles that impede their positive feeling of activity participation.
... The scale measures the tendency to use ruminative thinking when being in a negative mood, and is derived from the Response Styles Theory by Nolen-Hoeksema (1987). This theory implies a bidirectional, within-person link between rumination and distress in the sense that rumination increases distress and distress increases rumination (Nolen-Hoeksema and Morrow 1993; Lyubomirsky and Tkach 2004; see also Moberly and Watkins 2008). Two distinct styles of rumination, with distinct functional properties and consequences, have been reported. ...
Article
Full-text available
The Ruminative Response Scale (RRS) is commonly used to measure people’s general tendency to ruminate. In this study, we explored whether only few items from the RRS can be used to capture within-person variation in rumination in intensive longitudinal studies. Such a short RRS version would allow, for example, monitoring the development of rumination during clinical interventions. We measured rumination on five occasions, with at least one week in between. We used multilevel analyses to analyze the data at the within- and between-person level. Using only eight RRS items, we successfully modeled a reflective self-regulation and depressive brooding factor, similar to the two subfacets of rumination as distinguished by Treynor et al. (2003). We also established convergent validity of depressive brooding at the within- and between-person level of analysis and convergent validity of reflection at the between-person level. We thus introduced a short form of the RRS that captures within-person variation in depressive brooding and reflection well. The short RRS is readily applicable in studies on withinperson variation or change in rumination.
... The rumination, which is thought to take place in the background of many mood disorders (such as depression, anxiety), is not only seen in psychopathologies, but also in all people such repetitive thoughts about the individual himself and his experiences can be seen (Watkins, 2008). Only some individuals insist on the reasons, consequences and meaningful rumination of their own emotions or symptoms, without acting in any way to evaluate their own situation (Lyubomirsky & Tkach, 2004). Therefore, rumination causes increased duration and severity of mood disorders as well as the emotional situation such as anger and guilt, as well as an excruciating condition (Spasojevic et al., 2004). ...
Article
Full-text available
The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of group counseling program based on Cognitive-Behavioral Approach on the rumination levels of adolescents. Solomon Quadruple Model was applied in the study. Accordingly, in the study two control and two experimental groups, each consisting of 12 members, were formed. Experimental groups were provided psychological counseling with a group based on cognitive-behavioral approach for 8 weeks. No treatment was given to the control groups. The Rumination Scale Short Form (RS) was used data collection instrument. In accordance with the Solomon Quadruple Model, just one experimental and control group were pretested, while other two were not. Post-test was applied to all four groups. One months after the sessions were completed, the follow up measure was again applied to all four groups. Statistical analyzes revealed that the experimental groups had a significant decrease in the degree of brooding and reflection, rumination and sub-dimensions of rumination. It was also found that the results were independent of Maturation x Time interaction and Pretest effect. There was no statistically significant difference in the control groups. Therefore, based on the results, it can be said that the group counseling program with cognitive-behavioral approach is effective in decreasing the brooding and reflection levels of the rumination and rumination sub-dimensions of the adolescents. The findings were discussed in the light of the related literature and suggestions were made in relation to the results of the research.
... Longitudinally, rumination predicts problematic behavior and dependent social stress, such as aggression and perceived victimization, which in turn predict depression and anxiety symptoms (McLaughlin, Aladao, Wisco, & Hilt, 2014;McLaughlin & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Theorists propose that ineffective behavior and dependent stress arise as ruminative individuals fail to act effectively when navigating challenging situations (e.g., Kuhl, 1981;Lyubomirsky & Tkach, 2004;Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987;Snyder & Hankin, 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
How does rumination affect reinforcement learning—the ubiquitous process by which people adjust behavior after error to behave more effectively in the future? In a within-subjects design ( N = 49), we tested whether experimentally manipulated rumination disrupts reinforcement learning in a multidimensional learning task previously shown to rely on selective attention. Rumination impaired performance, yet unexpectedly, this impairment could not be attributed to decreased attentional breadth (quantified using a decay parameter in a computational model). Instead, trait rumination (between subjects) was associated with higher decay rates (implying narrower attention) but not with impaired performance. Our task-performance results accord with the possibility that state rumination promotes stress-generating behavior in part by disrupting reinforcement learning. The trait-rumination finding accords with the predictions of a prominent model of trait rumination (the attentional-scope model). More work is needed to understand the specific mechanisms by which state rumination disrupts reinforcement learning.
... Rumination is considered to be a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy used in response to negative affect (Joormann & Quinn, 2014). Moreover, it is a strategy that exacerbates and prolongs depression, for example, enhancing the depressed mood, negatively biasing thinking, or interfering with effective problem solving (Lyubomirsky & Tkach, 2004). Likewise, many studies have highlighted rumination as a cognitive vulnerability factor in the development and maintenance of depression (for a review, see Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008;Watkins & Roberts, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Rumination is considered a cognitive vulnerability factor in the development and maintenance of depression. The metacognitive model of rumination and depression suggests that the development of rumination and its association with depression partly depends on metacognitive beliefs. Two metacognitive beliefs about rumination have been identified: positive beliefs about its utility and negative beliefs about the uncontrollability and its negative social consequences. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis aimed: (1) to analyze the associations between metacognitive beliefs and rumination and depression; (2) to test the metacognitive model, using a Two-Stage Structural Equation Modeling approach (TSSEM). Literature search retrieved 41 studies. These 41 studies ( N = 10,607) were included in the narrative synthesis and meta-analysis, and 16 studies ( N = 4477) were comprised for the TSSEM. Results indicated metacognitive beliefs are associated with rumination and depression. Measures on metacognitive beliefs about rumination indicated that positive beliefs showed moderate associations with rumination ( r = 0.50), and low with depression ( r = 0.27); whereas negative beliefs showed moderate associations with both rumination ( r = 0.46) and depression ( r = 0.49). These results were consistent across studies using different instruments to measure metacognitive beliefs, and in both clinical and nonclinical samples. Moreover, results of the TSSEM analyses showed that the metacognitive model had a good fit. In sum, our results are in line with the metacognitive model of rumination and depression, highlighting that metacognitive beliefs are relevant factors to understand why people ruminate and get depressed. Future directions and clinical implications are discussed.
Chapter
A variety of studies have linked mood disorders to a ruminative style of thinking, particularly involving events and happenings from the past. When an individual’s early expectations of life are not met, depression may follow. In existential terms, depression may be linked to an individual failing to embrace the potentialities afforded by freedom. Post-event rumination, usually involving shorter time frames, has also been linked to social anxiety disorder, with individuals thinking over social encounters and how these were interpreted by others. Finally, regret and shame over early happenings can be involved in a range of pure obsessions, illness anxiety disorder and related conditions. It will be argued that all of these phenomena can be understood in existential terms and that this analysis is more in keeping with the way clients express their difficulties than typical cognitive and behavioural formulations.
Article
Full-text available
This research addresses recent calls for an alternative integrative framework to apprehend leaders’ behaviors and examines the validity of questionnaire anchored in this theoretical approach. Building upon Self-Determination Theory, we examined a tripartite approach of supervisors’ behaviors (supportive, thwarting, and indifferent toward subordinates’ psychological needs). The psychometric properties of this Tripartite Measure of Interpersonal Behaviors-Supervisor (TMIB-S) was tested through three studies. Results from bifactor exploratory structural equation modeling supported a solution including one global factor, and three specific factors reflecting need supportive, thwarting, and indifferent behaviors. This solution was fully invariant across distinct samples of French- and English-speaking employees. Results also supported the criterion-related and discriminant validities of the TMIB-S. More specifically, results supported the added-value of the TMIB-S, when compared to well-established measures of leadership (passive leadership, abusive supervision, LMX, and transformational leadership), in predicting well- and ill-being. Results also highlighted well-differentiated effects of the different components of supervisory behaviors and showed that supervisors’ need indifferent behaviors constitute a key piece in the prediction of employees’ health-related consequences.
Article
Full-text available
Interpersonal helping behaviors i.e., voluntarily assisting colleagues for their workplace related problems, have received immense amount of scholarly attention due to their significant impacts on organizational effectiveness. Among several other factors, authoritarian leadership style could influence helping behavior within organizations. Furthermore, this relationship could be mediated by workplace stressor such as rumination, known as a critical psychological health component leading to depressive symptoms, hopelessness and pessimism. In the meantime, less research attention has devoted to probe the crucial role of psychological ownership, which can buffer the adverse effects of authoritarian leadership upon rumination. Building on conservation of resources theory, this study investigates the adverse impacts of authoritarian leadership on employees' helping behaviors through mediating role of rumination, and also examines the moderating effect of psychological ownership between the relationship of authoritarian leadership and rumination. The data were collected from 264 employees in education and banking sectors and the results show: (i) authoritarian leadership has adverse impacts on helping behavior, (ii) rumination mediates the relationship between authoritarian leadership and employees' helping behaviors, and (iii) psychological ownership moderates the positive relationship between authoritarian leadership and rumination. This study concludes that authoritarian leadership has adverse impacts upon helping behavior, which needs to be controlled/minimized. The findings are of great significance for managers, employees, and organizations in terms of policy implications. The limitations and future research directions are also discussed.
Article
Previous research has found a consistent association between depressive symptomatology and a problematic use of the Internet, however, the causal pathways responsible for this association are not well known. Following emotion regulation theory, the present study aimed to explore the longitudinal dynamics between using the Internet to distract oneself, difficulties controlling Internet use, and depressive symptoms. A sample of 163 adults from Chile completed intensive self-reports about Internet use and depressive symptoms over 35 days. Using growth curve models, we predicted depressive symptoms both by a person's average tendency (between-subjects) to use the internet for distraction and having problems controlling internet use, and by momentary fluctuations (within-subjects). We also tested a model with reversed paths. Results indicate that momentary increases in distraction are not associated with depressive symptoms, however, increases in the latter were associated with more distraction. The relationship between distraction and depressive symptoms was mediated by difficulties controlling internet use, but only at the between-subjects level. This suggests that a higher average tendency to use the internet to distract oneself may work as an emotional buffer, with negative emotional consequences in the long run, an effect that takes time to completely unfold. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Article
A recent review of the literature on the role of self-focused attention in psychological dysfunction (R. E. Ingram, 1990) is critically examined. This article (1) reexamines the evidence relevant to Ingram's proposal that self-awareness is a nonspecific factor involved in virtually all forms of psychopathology and argues that this conclusion is not warranted by the existing evidence; (2) takes issue with his premise that the fact that self-awareness is associated with a variety of psychological dysfunctions poses a conceptual dilemma; (3) corrects several important inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in his presentation of C. S. Carver and M. F. Scheier's (1981) cybernetic control theory and T. Pyszczynski and J. Greenberg's (1987) self-regulatory perseveration theory; and (4) critiques the "self-absorption" model that he proposed as an alternative to extant theories and concludes that this conceptualization does not add to the understanding of either self-awareness processes or psychopathology.
Article
It was hypothesized that women are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than men because they are more likely to experience chronic negative circumstances (or strain), to have a low sense of mastery, and to engage in ruminative coping. The hypotheses were tested in a 2-wave study of approximately 1,100 community-based adults who were 25 to 75 years old. Chronic strain, low mastery, and rumination were each more common in women than in men and mediated the gender difference in depressive symptoms. Rumination amplified the effects of mastery and, to some extent, chronic strain on depressive symptoms. In addition, chronic strain and rumination had reciprocal effects on each other over time, and low mastery also contributed to more rumination. Finally, depressive symptoms contributed to more rumination and less mastery over time.
Article
Typescript. Thesis (M.A.)--Loyola College in Maryland. Includes bibliography (leaves 90-101).