Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rumination, distraction and depression

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


Ness said...

Thanks for this concise summary John. I have tried mindfulness as a treatment for depression and not found it as beneficial as when I've naturally found myself distracted by other things, which corresponds with the findings of this study. I will read further into this now!

John Gale said...

Thanks for your comment Ness. Yes, I would agreee with you in that I think taking an interest in other people and the world around you is perhaps a more beneficial way of feeling better than chewing over one's problems or being absorbed in one's own thoughts and feelings all the time!
Best Wishes,
John Gale,
Mental Health Update

Anonymous said...

Distraction only works for so long, though. When it comes down to it, you haven't done anything to fix the problem that caused the depression.

Anonymous said...

I agree I have suffered from depression for years and although i have improved the distraction technique only works for so long. If you are unable to fix the problem i.e poverty then things will not get better. There are a lot of people out there just like me where to we go from here!!!!!