When asking "why" does not hurt. Distinguishing rumination from reflective processing of negative emotions

Psychol Sci. 2005 Sep;16(9):709-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01600.x.


Two experiments examined the psychological operations that enable individuals to process negative emotions and experiences without increasing negative affect. In Study 1, type of self-perspective (self-immersed vs. self-distanced) and type of emotional focus (what vs. why) were experimentally manipulated following the recall of an anger-eliciting interpersonal experience. A why focus on emotions from a self-distanced perspective (distanced-why strategy) was expected to enable "cool," reflective processing of emotions, in which individuals can focus on their experience without reactivating excessive "hot" negative affect. Findings were consistent with this hypothesis. Study 2 replicated these findings and furthermore demonstrated that (a) the degree to which individuals construe their recalled experience in abstract versus concrete terms mediates the effect of the distanced-why strategy and (b) the status of the recalled experience (resolved vs. unresolved) does not moderate the effectiveness of the distanced-why strategy. These findings help disentangle the mechanisms that may allow adaptive working through from those that lead to rumination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Anger
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Concept*