Expanding Rumination. An Investigation into the Contributors to and Emotional and Interpersonal Consequences of Ruminative Thought
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The primary objective of this thesis was to investigate the broader consequences of rumination. This entailed exploring the emotional and interpersonal outcomes of rumination at both an individual and dyadic level. A secondary objective was to investigate the unique contribution of attachment to rumination, and the contributing influence of context, with rumination in the confines of a romantic relationship specifically explored. It is proposed that insecure attachment may be both associated with an increased engagement in rumination and a greater likelihood of negative consequences as the result of ruminating. It is also proposed that rumination will not only have consequences for the individual, but that it will also have consequences for their romantic partner.
Studies 1 and 2 explored the broader consequences of rumination, and the contribution of attachment, for the individual who is ruminating. Both studies involved student samples. Self-report data from Study 1 confirmed rumination was significantly correlated with depressive symptoms, depressive mood and the negative emotions of shame, guilt and anger. Rumination was also significantly correlated with insecure attachment. Together, rumination and insecure attachment were found to have a unique additive effect on the experience of depressive symptoms, shame and guilt. For depressive mood and anger, insecure attachment was found to moderate the effect of rumination. In Study 2 the relationship among rumination, attachment, negative emotion and interpersonal feelings was investigated experimentally. The contribution of context was also explored with individuals asked to either ruminate or distract after thinking about a negative relationship event. Correlational analyses indicated rumination was significantly associated with greater levels of negative emotion and relationship conflict, and lower levels of relationship depth and support. Experimental results confirmed ruminating on a negative relationship event resulted in lower levels of overall mood than distracting. Ruminating on a negative relationship event (as compared to distracting) did not result in lower levels of relationship satisfaction or relationship closeness, or greater negative feelings about the relationship. Neither anxious-ambivalent nor avoidant attachment significantly contributed to the experience of negative emotion or negative interpersonal feelings when ruminating (versus distracting) on a negative or typical relationship event.
Studies 3 and 4 explored the broader consequences of rumination for both the individual and their romantic partner. Study 3 involved a student sample, while Study 4 involved a community sample of adults. All couples were in a heterosexual relationship. Structural Equation Modelling confirmed the presence of emotional and interpersonal consequences of rumination for both samples of individuals. In regards to the consequences of rumination for one’s partner, results for the student sample indicated rumination in males was associated with greater levels of negative emotion but also lower levels of conflict in their partner. Rumination in females was associated with greater negative emotion in the relationship and greater levels of conflict for their partner. For the community sample, rumination in males was associated with greater relationship satisfaction for their partner.
Study 5 also explored rumination in the context of a romantic relationship. It did this by investigating the emotional and interpersonal consequences of verbally ruminating with a partner (referred to as co-rumination; Rose, 2002). A within-subjects experimental design was utilised where couples were asked to both co-ruminate, and to reflect together on a negative and a positive relationship event. Results indicated co-ruminating on a negative event resulted in greater relationship closeness and perceptions of support. Results also suggested that females felt they were giving more support to their partner while co-ruminating, while males felt they were giving more support while co-reflecting. No significant effect of co-rumination on emotion was noted.
Overall, the current thesis has extended the literature by providing evidence that rumination has several broader consequences beyond its established relationship with depression. Specifically, it has been shown here that rumination not only affects an individual’s emotions but that it also influences their interpersonal feelings. A deeper understanding of the complexities of rumination has also been provided with results highlighting the importance of the content of ruminative thought and the internalised nature of rumination. In regards to contributors to rumination, results have increased our understanding of the role of insecure attachment in contributing to the tendency to ruminate and to the relationship between rumination, emotion and interpersonal feelings. Results have also highlighted the importance of context with rumination associated with emotional and interpersonal consequences both for the individual who is ruminating and for their romantic partner. The implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed in depth throughout this thesis.