The Effects of Rumination and Relaxation on Flexibility during Cognitive Restructuring

2019-08-01T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Elizabeth Sara Stevens
Depressive rumination is elevated among both individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) and those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and is associated with inflexible cognitive and emotional processes. Several characteristics of rumination-related thought may contribute to its nonadaptive consequences as well as to the comorbidity between MDD and GAD, including its negatively valenced content, abstract level of construal, and passive approach to problem solving. Psychotherapies for MDD (e.g., cognitive therapy, relaxation) promote flexible responding to negative events, perhaps by altering these characteristics. We examined whether rumination inhibits or relaxation enhances flexibility during a cognitive restructuring exercise. Participants (n = 198) were randomly assigned to rumination, relaxation, or neutral thinking prior to generating alternative interpretations for their topics of depressive rumination. We examined the number and believability of alternative interpretations, as well as the valence, level of construal, and passive agency of interpretations. Relaxation did not enhance cognitive flexibility. Compared to relaxation and neutral thinking, rumination led to more concrete interpretations among individuals with minimal symptoms of GAD, but maintained levels of abstractness (versus concreteness) among individuals with elevated symptoms of GAD. In the absence of MDD, individuals with elevated versus minimal symptoms of GAD also generated more passive alternative interpretations. These findings suggest that individuals with GAD inflexibly engage in nonadaptive thought processes during and following rumination that may contribute to the maintenance of rumination and symptoms.