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Is Timing Everything? Sequential Effects of Rumination and Distraction on Interpersonal Problem Solving

Abstract

Rumination has been closely linked to risk for depression, whereas distraction has been hypothesized to decrease sad mood and to promote effective problem solving. This study investigates the hypothesis that it is not the use of specific strategies but rather their timing that is critical. Following a negative mood induction, participants were assigned to either immediately ruminate or distract followed by a second set of instructions to either ruminate or distract. Participants who initially engaged in distraction, compared to rumination, generated more effective solutions to interpersonal problems even when they subsequently engaged in rumination immediately prior to the problem solving task. In contrast, participants who engaged in distraction prior to the problem solving task generated less effective solutions when distraction followed a period of rumination. Importantly this effect was not due to differences in current mood state. The results suggest that the timing of the use of emotion regulation strategies is critical.

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Notes

  1. There were no significant differences between male and female participants on any of our variables. Furthermore, when we included sex of the participants as a factor, none of the effects involving sex were significant. The results from the analyses examining the effects of gender are available upon request from the first author.

  2. Although we matched the analyses closely to our a priori hypothesis, we also conducted conventional post-hoc analyses to follow-up on the significant ANOVA results. As expected, post-hoc LSD analyses revealed that the DIS/DIS group provided a higher percentage of model solutions and their solutions were rated as more effective compared to the RUM/RUM group (both ps < .05). More importantly, the DIS/RUM group provided a significantly higher percentage of model solutions and their solutions were rated as more effective compared to the RUM/RUM group (both ps < .05). Furthermore, the solutions generated by the RUM/DIS group were rated as less effective than the ones provided by the DIS/RUM and the DIS/DIS groups (both ps < .05). Thus, more conventional analyses also support our hypotheses despite small sample sizes in each group.

  3. The results did not change, when the mood rating after the second rumination/distraction (i.e., right before completing the MEPS) was entered as a covariate. That is, the solutions generated by the participants who first engaged in distraction (DIS/RUM and DIS/DIS) were still rated as more effective than those who first engaged in rumination (RUM/RUM and RUM/DIS), and the difference between the two groups with regards to the amount of model solutions remained significant after controlling for individual differences in negative mood.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sonja Lyubomirksy for sharing her materials with us.

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Correspondence to K. Lira Yoon.

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Yoon, K.L., Joormann, J. Is Timing Everything? Sequential Effects of Rumination and Distraction on Interpersonal Problem Solving. Cogn Ther Res 36, 165–172 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-010-9330-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-010-9330-2

Keywords

  • Rumination
  • Distraction
  • Problem solving
  • Depression