Rumination is a well-established risk factor for the onset of major depression and anxiety symptomatology in both adolescents and adults. Despite the robust associations between rumination and internalizing psychopathology, there is a dearth of research examining factors that might lead to a ruminative response style. In the current study, we examined whether social environmental experiences were associated with rumination. Specifically, we evaluated whether self-reported exposure to stressful life events predicted subsequent increases in rumination. We also investigated whether rumination served as a mechanism underlying the longitudinal association between self-reported stressful life events and internalizing symptoms. Self-reported stressful life events, rumination, and symptoms of depression and anxiety were assessed in 2 separate longitudinal samples. A sample of early adolescents (N = 1,065) was assessed at 3 time points spanning 7 months. A sample of adults (N = 1,132) was assessed at 2 time points spanning 12 months. In both samples, self-reported exposure to stressful life events was associated longitudinally with increased engagement in rumination. In addition, rumination mediated the longitudinal relationship between self-reported stressors and symptoms of anxiety in both samples and the relationship between self-reported life events and symptoms of depression in the adult sample. Identifying the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that explain a greater propensity for rumination following stressors remains an important goal for future research. This study provides novel evidence for the role of stressful life events in shaping characteristic responses to distress, specifically engagement in rumination, highlighting potentially useful targets for interventions aimed at preventing the onset of depression and anxiety.
© 2013 American Psychological Association