The Response Styles Theory deals with two ways in which people cope with negative thoughts. The first way is called rumination and involves passively focusing one's attention on one's bad mood and repetitively thinking about possible causes and consequences of it. Distraction is defined as actively turning one's attention away from one's symptoms on to pleasant or neutral thoughts and actions. The Response Styles Theory is that rumination worsens and prolongs depressed mood by increasing the likelihood of recalling negative memories and by impairing problem solving. A study of 60 university students by researchers in Germany induced a negative mood by playing them sad music and asking them to think of negative events or feelings in the past. They were then divided into three groups. One group was asked to think about their feelings and what they might mean - this was the 'rumination' group. Another group was distracted by being asked to think about external things and a third group (the mindfulness group) was asked to accept their feelings in a non-judgmental way, concentrate on moment-to-moment awareness and perform breathing exercises. The participants in the 'distraction' group showed a marked improvement in mood compared to the other two groups. The students in the rumination group showed a significant increase in dysfunctional attitudes. Those students who already showed symptoms of depression and who had been asked to ruminate showed a smaller decrease in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who had a lower score for depression.
Kuehner, C., Huffziger, S. and Liebsch, K. - Rumination, distraction and mindful self-focus: effects on mood, dysfunctional attitudes and cortisol stress response Psychological Medicine February 2009, 39(2), 219-228