Recurrent negative thinking is common in many mental-health problems. Worry in people who are anxious, rumination (chewing negative thoughts over and over) in depression and body preoccupation in eating disorders can all contribute to the perpetuation of the problem and affect cognition by taking up valuable 'thinking space.' A study of 60 female undergraduates at Oxford University examined how preoccupation affected their ability to process information about social interaction - often a problem for people with mental-health difficulties which can lead to them having problems with their relationships. The participants were chosen because they all had higher-than-average levels of preoccupation with food, body image and weight. One group were told to sit still, close their eyes and relax; another group were shown words and asked to talk about a memory they brought to mind (many of the words had food/body image connotations such as 'chocolate,' 'stomach,''diet,' and 'fat,') and a third group was asked to pick a topic they were worried about and worry about it in their usual way for two minutes. All the participants then watched an eight-minute video about a family conference and were then tested on how well they could remember it. Those who had worried for two minutes scored lower than the other two groups but there was no difference between those who had talked about memories linked to words and those who had relaxed for two minutes.
Lehtonen, Annukka ... [et al] - Effects of preoccupation on interpersonal recall: a pilot study Depression and anxiety January 2009, 26(1), 1-6