The origins of repetitive thought in rumination: separating cognitive style from deficits in inhibitory control over memory

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;47:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.10.009. Epub 2014 Nov 7.


Background and objectives: Rumination is a major contributor to the maintenance of affective disorders and has been linked to memory control deficits. However, ruminators often report intentionally engaging in repetitive thought due to its perceived benefits. Deliberate re-processing may lead to the appearance of a memory control deficit that is better explained as a difference in cognitive style.

Methods: Ninety-six undergraduate students volunteered to take part in a direct-suppression variant of the Think/No-Think paradigm after which they completed self-report measures of rumination and the degree to which they deliberately re-processed the to-be-suppressed items.

Results: We demonstrate a relation between rumination and impaired suppression-induced forgetting. This relation is robust even when controlling for deliberate re-processing of the to-be-suppressed items, a behavior itself related to both rumination and suppression. Therefore, whereas conscious fixation on to-be-suppressed items reduced memory suppression, it did not fully account for the relation between rumination and memory suppression.

Limitations: The current experiment employed a retrospective measure of deliberate re-processing in the context of an unscreened university sample; future research might therefore generalize our findings using an online measure of deliberate re-processing or within a clinical population.

Conclusions: We provide evidence that deliberate re-processing accounts for some--but not all--of the relation between rumination and suppression-induced forgetting. The present findings, observed in a paradigm known to engage top-down inhibitory modulation of mnemonic processing, provide the most theoretically focused evidence to date for the existence of a memory control deficit in rumination.

Keywords: Inhibition; Memory; Retrieval suppression; Rumination; Think/no-think.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Memory*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thinking*
  • Young Adult