Rumination is a key characteristic of depression. Individuals with depression have high levels of negative affect and tend to recycle negative thoughts and emotions. This behavior of ruminating on negative experiences perpetuates the cycle of depression and increases the severity and length of depressive symptoms. How individuals approach their negative emotions has been the subject of much research on depression. In a recent study, Ethan Kross of the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan looked at two different ways in which people view negative thoughts in order to determine if one increased depressive symptoms more than the other.
In the study, Kross evaluated 51 individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 45 individuals with no history of depression as they analyzed their emotions in relation to a negative life event. The participants were instructed to view their feelings using either a self-distanced approach or a self-immersed approach. Kross gauged how these two perspectives affected negative affect, avoidance, and emotional content and discovered several interesting findings. First, Kross found that both the MDD and non-MDD participants were able to self-distance. This is a key finding because many depressed individuals do not automatically choose to use this perspective when in the midst of troubling feelings but may be inherently capable of doing so. Kross said, “Second, depressed participants who analyzed their feelings from a self-distanced perspective displayed lower levels of depressive thought accessibility and negative affect than their self-immersed counterparts.” These same individuals also gained more awareness of the negative situations and achieved a sense of closure that the self-immersed group did not.
Kross did not find any differences in the levels of avoidance, regardless of how the participants viewed their negative events. Overall, the research demonstrated that individuals with depression do not always have negative outcomes when they question the circumstances that led to the negative emotions. Rather, their emotional outcome is predicted more by how they ask the questions. Specifically, a self-distanced approach of analyzing emotions seems to lead to a more adaptive and positive outcome than a self-immersed approach, which appears to contribute to further rumination and negative emotions.
Kross, E., Gard, D., Deldin, P., Clifton, J., Ayduk, O. (2012). ‘Asking why’ from a distance: Its cognitive and emotional consequences for people with major depressive disorder.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028808
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