A habit-goal framework of depressive rumination

J Abnorm Psychol. 2014 Feb;123(1):24-34. doi: 10.1037/a0035540.


Rumination has been robustly implicated in the onset and maintenance of depression. However, despite empirically well-supported theories of the consequences of trait rumination (response styles theory; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991), and of the processes underlying state episodes of goal-oriented repetitive thought (control theory; Martin & Tesser, 1989, 1996), the relationship between these theories remains unresolved. Further, less theoretical and clinical attention has been paid to the maintenance and treatment of trait depressive rumination. We propose that conceptualizing rumination as a mental habit (Hertel, 2004) helps to address these issues. Elaborating on this account, we propose a framework linking the response styles and control theories via a theoretical approach to the relationship between habits and goals (Wood & Neal, 2007). In this model, with repetition in the same context, episodes of self-focused repetitive thought triggered by goal discrepancies can become habitual, through a process of automatic association between the behavioral response (i.e., repetitive thinking) and any context that occurs repeatedly with performance of the behavior (e.g., physical location, mood), and in which the repetitive thought is contingent on the stimulus context. When the contingent response involves a passive focus on negative content and abstract construal, the habit of depressive rumination is acquired. Such habitual rumination is cued by context independent of goals and is resistant to change. This habit framework has clear treatment implications and generates novel testable predictions.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Goals*
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Thinking*