Background: Ruminating when depressed is thought to lower mood and impair problem-solving, while distraction is thought to alleviate mood and assist problem-solving. The present study investigates each of these proposals using both naturally occurring and experimentally induced rumination and distraction in a sample of patients with major depression.
Method: Thirty-six patients with major depression and 36 control participants were randomly allocated to either a rumination or distraction induction condition. Levels of trait rumination and distraction were measured at baseline, mood and problem-solving were measured before and after the inductions.
Results: In terms of trait measures, depressed patients with higher levels of trait rumination reported poorer mood and gave less effective problem solutions than those who were less ruminative. Trait distraction was not associated with mood or problem-solving. In terms of induced responses, depressed patients who were made to ruminate experienced a deterioration in their mood and gave poorer problem solutions. For those receiving the distraction induction, mood improved in all patients and problem-solving improved in patients who were not naturally ruminating at a high level. Neither induction had an impact on mood or problem-solving in control participants.
Conclusions: Treatment for depression associated with adverse life events may need to target rumination as well as problem-solving deficits if interventions are to be effective. The differential effects of self-applied versus experimentally induced distraction require further investigation. Future research will need to consider that high levels of trait rumination may interfere with the impact of experimental inductions.