The Effect of Reflective Processing versus Rumination on

The Effect of Reflective Processing versus Rumination on

The Effect of Reflective Processing versus Rumination on Emotional Responses to Sad Memories: Influence of Pre-existing
Depressive Symptoms and Ruminative Tendencies
Tristen Hastings & Wendy Wolfe
Tendencies toward ruminative thought processes are oftentimes found to occur
in conjunction with recurrent depressive symptoms. Due to dysphoric mood, these
thought processes are characterized by a negative bias that intensifies depressive
symptoms. This self-defeating cycle is common in depression and suggests a need
for therapeutic techniques designed to provide alternative coping responses for
depression, other than rumination. Consequently, there is need for a treatment
technique that affords the patient the opportunity for constructive, reflective
processing while minimizing problematic rumination.
In 2005, a therapeutic technique based on the benefits of reflective processing
was introduced with regard to aggression by Kross, Ayduk, and Mischel. They
postulated that when attempting to work through negative emotions, highly reactive,
emotional individuals tend to review autobiographical memories from an
immersed perspective; whereas, calm, analytical individuals tend to review
autobiographical memories from a distanced perspective. They formulated a
technique designed to teach individuals to adopt a distanced perspective as opposed
to an immersed perspective when reflecting upon anger-eliciting memories. Results
indicated that participants in the distanced condition exhibited significantly less
anger than participants in the immersed condition.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the efficacy of this
technique on emotions commonly associated with depression as well as the
influence pre-existing depressive symptoms and ruminative tendencies have upon
ones ability to maintain the distanced perspective. We hypothesized individuals in
the distanced condition would exhibit significantly less sadness than participants in
the immersed condition. In addition, we hypothesized participants with pre-existing
depressive symptoms and/or ruminative tendencies would exhibit more difficulty
maintaining the distanced perspective than other participants.

The current study recruited 114 Armstrong Atlantic State University
undergraduate students enrolled in introductory psychology courses. Participants
were randomly assigned into either the distanced-why or immersed-why
conditions. Each condition contained 57 participants and were equivalent in terms of
sex, age, race and depressive symptomatology. However, a post-hoc t-test revealed
that participants assigned to the distanced-why (M = 43.4) group had higher scores
on a measure of ruminative tendencies than participants assigned to the immersedwhy (M = 41) group, t(112) = 2.03, p < .05. Participants in the immersed condition were prompted to visualize the memory as if it was reoccurring and to focus on the reasons behind the emotions they experienced; whereas, participants in the distanced condition were prompted to visualize the memory as if they were watching it occur from a bystanders perspective and to focus on the reasons behind the emotions of the distant them. Participants were then asked to write a brief description of the memory and complete measures for implicit and explicit sadness, as well as depression and rumination. Implicit sadness was measured utilizing a word completion task in which seven out of twenty-five items could be completed by using either a sad or a neutral word. Explicit sadness was measured utilizing the PANAS; however, sadness was added as an additional item in the measure. The BDI-II was used as a measure for depression, and the Scott-McIntosh Rumination Inventory (i.e., SMRI) was utilized as a measure for rumination. 4.5 4 3.5 3 2.5 Immersed 2 Distanced Method Participants were instructed to retrieve a memory of an interpersonal experience that elicited feelings of intense sadness and regret from either an immersed or distanced perspective. 0.5 0 High SM RI For further information, contact the first author undergraduate, Tristen Hastings at [email protected] Low SM RI Rum ination Scores 4.5 4 3.5 3 Immersed 2.5 Distanced 2 1.5 1 0.5 0 No Therapy History of Psychotherapy The memory summaries were scored and separated into concrete construals and abstract construals based on the number of what statements and self-blame attributions (i.e., concrete construals) as well as metacognitive insight statements and metacognitive closure statements (i.e., abstract construals). A construal index was then calculated from these scores by subtracting abstract construal scores from concrete construal scores. An independent samples t test on construal index scores indicated a main effect of condition, t(111) = -2.86, p < .01. As expected, participants in the immersed condition (M = 0.71) used more concrete construals compared to abstract construals in their summaries than participants in the distanced condition (M = 0.24). Next, multivariate tests using the general linear model procedure were run. Surprisingly, results indicated no main effect of condition on any of the dependent variables. The GLM did, however, indicate a significant interaction between condition and SMRI scores on implicit sadness, F(1) = 5.06, p < .05. The nature of the interaction is depicted in Figure 1. 1 5 Therapy Results 1.5 The GLM also revealed a significant interaction between condition and past psychotherapy treatment on implicit sadness, F(1) = 6.83, p < .05. The nature of the interaction is depicted in Figure 2. Discussion The significant difference in construal index scores between conditions indicates participants were able to maintain the perspective they were instructed to adopt during the sad memory task. However, our hypothesis that implicit and explicit sadness scores would differ depending on condition was not supported. Interestingly, the interaction between rumination scores and condition suggests that the memory manipulation worked as expected (when it came to implicit emotional memory), but only for low ruminators. Thus, while results indicated that, despite ones ruminative tendencies, participants were able to maintain the assigned perspective, adopting a distanced perspective did not appear to buffer individuals with ruminative tendencies from experiencing an increase in negative affect when contemplating a sad memory. Given the role of ruminative tendencies on the effect of the memory manipulation, a possible explanation for our findings is the unequal distribution of SMRI scores across the two memory conditions. It appears that participants with a history of psychotherapy were also particularly impacted by the immersed condition in terms of higher sad responses on the implicit task. Perhaps they were accessing sadder memories or perhaps therapy made them more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by past emotionally charged events (when immersed back in that memory). The fact that the analyses revealed no main effects involving the explicit measure of sadness is puzzling, although it may be an indication that implicit memory provides a more sensitive measure of mood change. Poster presented at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) 42nd Annual Convention, Orlando, FL (11-15-08).

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