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The impact of rumination on memory for self-referent material

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Previous findings have linked rumination to the enhanced retrieval of negative memories (Lyubormirsky, Caldwell, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998) and overgeneral autobiographical memories (Watkins & Teasdale, 2004) in depression. However, little is known of the impact of rumination on the encoding of information, and in particular, self-referent information. This study examined the impact of rumination on self-referent encoding in high (BDI-II≥13) and low (BDI-II≤5) dysphoric participants. Participants were randomly allocated to a rumination or distraction condition, and then completed the experimental task in which they rated a series of adjectives (positive, negative) as either self- or other-descriptive, and later received a memory test for the adjectives. Not surprisingly, high-dysphoric participants endorsed more negative and less positive adjectives as self-descriptive. Counter to our prediction, high-dysphoric participants allocated to the rumination condition did not endorse more negative adjectives as self-referent. However, consistent with our hypothesis, high-dysphoric participants who ruminated recalled more negative self-referent words, after controlling for the proportion of words endorsed as self-descriptive. The findings demonstrate that rumination results in enhanced memory for negative, self-related material, and raises the possibility that this may serve as another pathway via which the negative evaluations of the self observed clinically in depression are maintained.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2007

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