Different Patterns of Attention Bias in Worry and Rumination

  • Juyoen HurEmail author
  • Kelly Gaul
  • Howard Berenbaum
Original Article


In two studies with college student participants, we explored the ways in which worry and rumination may be similar or distinct. Towards that end, as part of our research, we developed new laboratory measures of worry and rumination. In Study 1, we examined how the new lab instruments we developed differentiate worry versus rumination and initiation versus termination. We did so by comparing them with two other measurement methods of worry and rumination, ecological momentary assessment and questionnaires. We found that the laboratory measures were reasonably able to differentiate worry from rumination, but not initiation from termination. In Study 2, we further examined the relationship between attentional biases to threat/danger and loss/failure (using the dot probe task) and both worry and rumination to explore the nature of distinctions between worry and rumination. We found different patterns of attentional bias associated with worry and rumination. Worry was associated with bias away from threat. In contrast, rumination was associated with bias toward loss/failure. The results of the two studies suggest that there are some meaningful differences between worry and rumination. The implications of the current findings are discussed.


Worry Rumination Attentional bias Threat Loss 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Juyoen Hur, Kelly Gaul and Howard Berenbaum declares that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10608_2018_9993_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 KB)
10608_2018_9993_MOESM2_ESM.sav (6 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (SAV 6 KB)
10608_2018_9993_MOESM3_ESM.sav (15 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (SAV 14 KB)


  1. Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & Van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 1.Google Scholar
  2. Beck, A. T. (2008). The evolution of the cognitive model of depression and its neurobiological correlates. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(8), 969–977.Google Scholar
  3. Beck, A. T., Brown, G., Steer, R. A., Eidelson, J. I., & Riskind, J. H. (1987). Differentiating anxiety and depression: A test of the cognitive content-specificity hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96(3), 179.Google Scholar
  4. Beck, A. T., & Haigh, E. A. (2014). Advances in cognitive theory and therapy: The generic cognitive model. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10, 1–24.Google Scholar
  5. Berenbaum, H. (2010). An initiation-termination two-phase model of worrying. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(8), 962–975. Scholar
  6. Berenbaum, H., Chow, P. I., Flores Jr, L. E., Schoenleber, M., Thompson, R. J., & Most, S. B. (2018). A test of the initiation–termination model of worry. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 9(1), 2043808718778965.Google Scholar
  7. Borkovec, T. D. (1994). The nature, functions, and origins of worry. In G. Davey & F. Tallis (Eds.), Worrying: Perspectives on theory, assessment and treatment (pp. 5–33). Oxford: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Borkovec, T. D., Robinson, E., Pruzinsky, T., & DePree, J. A. (1983). Preliminary exploration of worry: Some characteristics and processes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 21(1), 9–16.Google Scholar
  9. Bradley, B. P., Mogg, K., Falla, S. J., & Hamilton, L. R. (1998). Attentional bias for threatening facial expressions in anxiety: Manipulation of stimulus duration. Cognition & Emotion, 12(6), 737–753.Google Scholar
  10. Bradley, M. M., & Lang, P. J. (1994). Measuring emotion: The self-assessment manikin and the semantic differential. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 25(1), 49–59.Google Scholar
  11. Cisler, J. M., & Koster, E. H. (2010). Mechanisms of attentional biases towards threat in anxiety disorders: An integrative review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(2), 203–216. Scholar
  12. Clark, D. A., Beck, A. T., & Brown, G. (1989). Cognitive mediation in general psychiatric outpatients: A test of the content-specificity hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(6), 958.Google Scholar
  13. Dillon, D. G., Rosso, I. M., Pechtel, P., Killgore, W. D., Rauch, S. L., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2014). Peril and pleasure: An RDOC-inspired examination of threat responses and reward processing in anxiety and depression. Depression and Anxiety, 31(3), 233–249.Google Scholar
  14. Donaldson, C., Lam, D., & Mathews, A. (2007). Rumination and attention in major depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(11), 2664–2678. Scholar
  15. Dunn, O. J., & Clark, V. (1969). Correlation coefficients measured on the same individuals. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 64(325), 366–377.Google Scholar
  16. Engel, S. G., Wonderlich, S. A., Crosby, R. D., Wright, T. L., Mitchell, J. E., Crow, S. J., & Venegoni, E. E. (2005). A study of patients with anorexia nervosa using ecologic momentary assessment. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(4), 335–339. Scholar
  17. Engels, A. S., Heller, W., Mohanty, A., Herrington, J. D., Banich, M. T., Webb, A. G., & Miller, G. A. (2007). Specificity of regional brain activity in anxiety types during emotion processing. Psychophysiology, 44(3), 352–363.Google Scholar
  18. Eysenck, M. W. (1984). Anxiety and the worry process. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 22(6), 545–548.Google Scholar
  19. Gibb, B. E., McGeary, J. E., & Beevers, C. G. (2016). Attentional biases to emotional stimuli: Key components of the RDoC constructs of sustained threat and loss. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 171(1), 65–80.Google Scholar
  20. Goodwin, H., Eagleson, C., Mathews, A., Yiend, J., & Hirsch, C. (2017). Automaticity of attentional bias to threat in high and low worriers. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 41(3), 479–488.Google Scholar
  21. Goodwin, H., Yiend, J., & Hirsch, C. R. (2017). Generalized anxiety disorder, worry and attention to threat: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 54, 107–122.Google Scholar
  22. Grafton, B., Southworth, F., Watkins, E., & MacLeod, C. (2016). Stuck in a sad place: Biased attentional disengagement in rumination. Emotion, 16(1), 63.Google Scholar
  23. Hankin, B. L., Gibb, B. E., Abela, J. R., & Flory, K. (2010). Selective attention to affective stimuli and clinical depression among youths: Role of anxiety and specificity of emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119(3), 491.Google Scholar
  24. Joormann, J., Dkane, M., & Gotlib, I. H. (2006). Adaptive and maladaptive components of rumination? Diagnostic specificity and relation to depressive biases. Behavior Therapy, 37(3), 269–280. Scholar
  25. Kellough, J. L., Beevers, C. G., Ellis, A. J., & Wells, T. T. (2008). Time course of selective attention in clinically depressed young adults: An eye tracking study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(11), 1238–1243.Google Scholar
  26. Kendall, P. C., & Ingram, R. E. (1989). Cognitive-behavioral perspectives: Theory and research on depression and anxiety. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  27. Kirkegaard Thomsen, D. (2006). The association between rumination and negative affect: A review. Cognition and Emotion, 20(8), 1216–1235.Google Scholar
  28. Koster, E. H., Crombez, G., Verschuere, B., & De Houwer, J. (2006). Attention to threat in anxiety-prone individuals: Mechanisms underlying attentional bias. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 30(5), 635–643.Google Scholar
  29. Koster, E. H., De Raedt, R., Goeleven, E., Franck, E., & Crombez, G. (2005). Mood-congruent attentional bias in dysphoria: Maintained attention to and impaired disengagement from negative information. Emotion, 5(4), 446–455. Scholar
  30. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (1997). International affective picture system (IAPS): Technical manual and affective ratings. NIMH Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, 39–58.Google Scholar
  31. MacLeod, C., & Mathews, A. (1988). Anxiety and the allocation of attention to threat. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 40(4), 653–670.Google Scholar
  32. Martin, L. L., Tesser, A., & McIntosh, W. D. (1993). Wanting but not having: The effects of unattained goals on thoughts and feelings. Washington, DC: American Psychological AssociationGoogle Scholar
  33. Mathews, A., & MacLeod, C. (2005). Cognitive vulnerability to emotional disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psycholog, 1, 167–195. Scholar
  34. McEvoy, P. M., Watson, H., Watkins, E. R., & Nathan, P. (2013). The relationship between worry, rumination, and comorbidity: Evidence for repetitive negative thinking as a transdiagnostic construct. The Journal of Affective Disorders, 151(1), 313–320. Scholar
  35. Meng, X. L., Rosenthal, R., & Rubin, D. B. (1992). Comparing correlated correlation coefficients. Psychological bulletin, 111(1), 172–175.Google Scholar
  36. Mennin, D. S., & Fresco, D. M. (2013). What, me worry and ruminate about DSM-5 and RDoC? The importance of targeting negative self-referential processing. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 20(3), 258–267.Google Scholar
  37. Meyer, T. J., Miller, M. L., Metzger, R. L., & Borkovec, T. D. (1990). Development and validation of the penn state worry questionnaire. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28(6), 487–495.Google Scholar
  38. Mogg, K., Bradley, B. P., Dixon, C., Fisher, S., Twelftree, H., & McWilliams, A. (2000). Trait anxiety, defensiveness and selective processing of threat: An investigation using two measures of attentional bias. Personality and Individual Differences, 28(6), 1063–1077.Google Scholar
  39. Mogg, K., Bradley, B. P., Williams, R., & Mathews, A. (1993). Subliminal processing of emotional information in anxiety and depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102(2), 304.Google Scholar
  40. Mor, N., & Winquist, J. (2002). Self-focused attention and negative affect: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 638.Google Scholar
  41. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1998). The other end of the continuum: The costs of rumination. Psychological Inquiry, 9(3), 216–219.Google Scholar
  42. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424.Google Scholar
  43. Oathes, D. J., Siegle, G. J., & Ray, W. J. (2011). Chronic worry and the temporal dynamics of emotional processing. Emotion, 11(1), 101.Google Scholar
  44. Paulesu, E., Sambugaro, E., Torti, T., Danelli, L., Ferri, F., Scialfa, G.,.. . Sassaroli, S. (2010). Neural correlates of worry in generalized anxiety disorder and in normal controls: A functional MRI study. Psychological Medicine, 40(1), 117–124.Google Scholar
  45. Rapee, R. M. (1993). The utilisation of working memory by worry. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31(6), 617–620.Google Scholar
  46. Ruscio, A. M., & Borkovec, T. D. (2004). Experience and appraisal of worry among high worriers with and without generalized anxiety disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42(12), 1469–1482. Scholar
  47. Ruscio, A. M., Seitchik, A. E., Gentes, E. L., Jones, J. D., & Hallion, L. S. (2011). Perseverative thought: A robust predictor of response to emotional challenge in generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(12), 867–874. Scholar
  48. Sass, S. M., Heller, W., Stewart, J. L., Silton, R. L., Edgar, J. C., Fisher, J. E., & Miller, G. A. (2010). Time course of attentional bias in anxiety: Emotion and gender specificity. Psychophysiology, 47(2), 247–259.Google Scholar
  49. Schmukle, S. C. (2005). Unreliability of the dot probe task. European Journal of Personality, 19(7), 595–605.Google Scholar
  50. Schneider, W., Eschman, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime: User’s guide. Sharpsburg: Psychology Software Incorporated.Google Scholar
  51. Segerstrom, S. C., Stanton, A. L., Alden, L. E., & Shortridge, B. E. (2003). A multidimensional structure for repetitive thought: What’s on your mind, and how, and how much? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 909–921. Scholar
  52. Sheehan, D., Janavus, J., Baker, R., Harnett-Sheehan, K., Knapp, E., & Sheehan, M. (2001). MINI plus-mini international neuropsychiatric interview. Brazilian version 5.0. 0. DSM IV.Google Scholar
  53. Shiffman, S., Stone, A. A., & Hufford, M. R. (2008). Ecological momentary assessment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4(1), 1–32. Scholar
  54. Smith, J. M., & Alloy, L. B. (2009). A roadmap to rumination: A review of the definition, assessment, and conceptualization of this multifaceted construct. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(2), 116–128. Scholar
  55. Southworth, F., Grafton, B., MacLeod, C., & Watkins, E. (2017). Heightened ruminative disposition is associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative relative to positive information: Support for the “impaired disengagement” hypothesis. Cognition and Emotion, 31(3), 422–434.Google Scholar
  56. Stokes, C., & Hirsch, C. R. (2010). Engaging in imagery versus verbal processing of worry: Impact on negative intrusions in high worriers. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(5), 418–423.Google Scholar
  57. Stone, A., Shiffman, S., Atienza, A., & Nebeling, L. (2007). The science of real-time data capture: Self-reports in health research. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Trapnell, P. D., & Campbell, J. D. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: Distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(2), 284.Google Scholar
  59. Wanke, M., & Schmid, J. (1996). Rumination: When AII EIse FaiIs. Ruminative Thoughts, 9, 177.Google Scholar
  60. Watkins, E. R. (2008). Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 163–206. Scholar
  61. Wilson, E., & MacLeod, C. (2003). Contrasting two accounts of anxiety-linked attentional bias: Selective attention to varying levels of stimulus threat intensity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112(2), 212.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRoosevelt UniversityChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

Personalised recommendations