Recent theoretical advances have emphasized the commonality between rumination and worry, often referred to as repetitive negative thinking. Although not studied extensively, repetitive negative thinking may not only account for a substantial overlap between depression and anxiety symptoms but also encapsulate other constructs including one's tendency to experience unwanted intrusive thoughts or have low levels of mindfulness. In this study, 643 college students completed self-report questionnaire measures of repetitive negative thinking (the Habit Index of Negative Thinking) and other relevant constructs including rumination, worry, depression and anxiety symptoms, intrusive thoughts, and mindfulness. To analyze the data, we conducted systematic commonality analyses, which algebraically decomposed shared variances among these measures into various unique components. Results in Study 1 indicated that individual differences in repetitive negative thinking were explained largely by the overlap between rumination and worry, but also by some rumination-specific and worry-specific variance. Moreover, the shared variation in rumination and worry explained the frequencies of depression and anxiety symptoms and their overlap. We also found in Study 2 that repetitive negative thinking was positively related to intrusive thoughts and negatively related to mindfulness. These associations were mostly explained by shared variance with rumination and worry, but there was also some mindfulness-specific variance. These results suggest that repetitive negative thinking may indeed lie at the core of the comorbidity between depression and anxiety symptoms, but that it is also a broader construct that encompasses intrusive thoughts and low levels of mindfulness.
Keywords: anxiety; depression; intrusive thoughts; mindfulness; repetitive negative thinking; rumination; worry.