In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rumination

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Rumination and Associations with Mood
  • Perceived Positive Beliefs about Rumination That May Contribute to Its Maintenance
  • Prediction of Onset and Maintenance of Psychopathology
  • Rumination and Associations with Physiological Stress Responding
  • Rumination and Its Neural Correlates
  • Rumination and Its Relation to Other Forms of Repetitive Negative Thought and Emotion Regulation
  • Treatment of Rumination

Psychology Rumination
Elizabeth J. Lewis, Jutta Joorman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0206


Rumination is a cognitive process that has been closely linked to an increased risk for the onset of psychopathology and to the maintenance of emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Rumination is characterized by the process of repetitive thinking that is often experienced as uncontrollable and not necessarily by a specific content of thought. Rumination, however, frequently takes the form of depressive rumination, which refers to repetitive, negative thinking, generally about past events or current stressors. This article begins by introducing the various major conceptualizations of rumination, and the most comprehensive review articles on this topic. An overview is then provided of the major components of rumination and its relation with other important constructs to predict the onset and maintenance of psychopathology. For example, the association of rumination with mood (generally negative) is reviewed, followed by the perceived positive beliefs of rumination that might contribute to its maintenance, and its prediction of the onset and maintenance of various forms of psychopathology. Then, core cognitive processes that are related to rumination are reviewed, including biases in attention, interpretation, memory, and impairments in cognitive control. Another important area of research revolves around the identification of physiological correlates of the process of rumination, such as work investigating its association with psychophysiological arousal, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation, and the neural circuitry that may underlie rumination. The relation between rumination and other forms of repetitive negative thought (RNT) such as worry is then reviewed. Finally, the measurement of habitual rumination, state rumination, and the induction of rumination in laboratory settings is discussed. The article concludes with reviewing advances in the treatment of rumination.

General Overviews

This section reviews central theoretical perspectives on rumination, as well as comprehensive reviews of empirical work on rumination. Nolen-Hoeksema 1991 is the seminal paper that introduced the response styles theory (RST) of rumination. In this theory, rumination is conceptualized as a passive and repetitive style of responding to negative mood that prolongs negative mood and increases the likelihood for depressive symptoms. An attempt to construct a rumination scale that was not confounded with depressive symptoms, Treynor, et al. 2003 determines the Response Styles Questionnaire to include maladaptive (brooding) and adaptive (reflective pondering) subscales of rumination. In support of the RST, Thomsen 2006 reviews empirical evidence for the association between rumination and negative mood. In Nolen-Hoeksema, et al. 2008 the authors describe advances in the RST and empirical evidence for its tenets. A differing account of rumination is provided in Martin and Tesser 1996; rumination is described as arising in response to blockages or slowed progress toward the attainment of important personal goals and is not necessarily considered maladaptive. Watkins and Nolen-Hoeksema 2014 introduces a “habit-goal framework” in order to bridge these two conceptualizations to theorize how rumination in response to goal blockages may become habitual, leading to depressive rumination. Watkins 2008 provides an account of rumination that describes when rumination and other forms of repetitive thought have constructive versus unconstructive consequences. Smith and Alloy 2009 gives a general review of these and other conceptualizations of rumination. Several cognitive accounts of rumination have been posited in the literature as well. Koster, et al. 2011 offers a theory termed the impaired disengagement hypothesis, which posits that difficulties disengaging attention from negative material fuel the prolonged processing of that material, promoting the occurrence of depressive rumination. Whitmer and Gotlib 2013 describes an attentional scope model of rumination, elaborating on how deficits in inhibition, the updating of working memory, and forgetting relate to the tendency to ruminate.

  • Koster, E. H. W., E. De Lissnyder, N. Derakshan, and R. De Raedt. 2011. Understanding depressive rumination from a cognitive science perspective: The impaired disengagement hypothesis. Clinical Psychology Review 31.1: 138–145.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.08.005

    Rumination may underlie the association between difficulties disengaging attention from negative information and emotional responding. Difficulties disengaging attention from negative material may fuel prolonged processing of that material (rumination), which may hinder the use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies.

  • Martin, L. L., and A. Tesser. 1996. Some ruminative thoughts. In Ruminative thoughts. Edited by R. S. Wyer Jr., 1–51. Advances in Social Cognition 9. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Theory of how state rumination arises (goal discrepancy, which causes unresolved goals to maintain the focus of awareness until progress is made or the goal is abandoned).

  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S. 1991. Responses to depression and their effects on the duration of depressive episodes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 100.4: 569–582.

    DOI: 10.1037/0021-843X.100.4.569

    This is the seminal paper in which Nolen-Hoeksema introduces the RST. In this influential theory, depressive rumination thought to be a trait-like response to negative affect. It is thought of as a style of thought rather than referring to the content of the thought, which differentiates this construct from negative automatic thoughts.

  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S., B. E. Wisco, and S. Lyubomirsky. 2008. Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science 3.5: 400–424.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x

    This review discusses the evidence for the RST, including evidence that depressive rumination exacerbates sad mood and prospectively predicts depressive symptoms. Rumination is defined as repetitive thinking that centers on depressive symptoms and the causes, meanings, and implications of these symptoms.

  • Smith, J. M., and L. B. Alloy. 2009. A roadmap to rumination: A review of the definition, assessment, and conceptualization of this multifaceted construct. Clinical Psychology Review 29.2: 116–128.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.10.003

    Reviews different models of rumination and its assessment, as well as relation to similar constructs.

  • Thomsen, D. K. 2006. The association between rumination and negative affect: A review. Cognition and Emotion 20.8: 1216–1235.

    DOI: 10.1080/02699930500473533

    Thomsen provides a review of the correlational and experimental literature linking rumination with negative affect.

  • Treynor, W., R. Gonzalez, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema. 2003. Rumination reconsidered: A psychometric analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research 27.3: 247–259.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1023910315561

    The authors identify maladaptive (brooding) and adaptive (reflective pondering) subcomponents of depressive rumination in this study and defined these as two subscales of the Response Styles Questionnaire. They note that these subscales related differentially to depression both in terms of predictive utility and mediation of gender differences, such that brooding was more closely related to future depression and its gender differences than reflective pondering.

  • Watkins, E. R. 2008. Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought. Psychological Bulletin 134.2: 163–206.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.163

    Watkins describes processes that may contribute to repetitive thought when it has constructive versus unconstructive consequences. Rumination is associated with abstract construal, which may preclude active problem solving.

  • Watkins, E. R., and S. Nolen-Hoeksema. 2014. A habit-goal framework of depressive rumination. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 123.1: 24–34.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0035540

    The authors introduce the habit-goal framework of rumination, which bridges the global and depressive accounts of rumination. In this theory, rumination may arise through goal discrepancies and may develop into habitual depressive rumination if it often occurs in the same context (e.g., negative affect).

  • Whitmer, A. J., and I. H. Gotlib. 2013. An attentional scope model of rumination. Psychological Bulletin 139.5: 1036–1061.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0030923

    This paper describes the attentional scope model of rumination. The authors describe how deficits in inhibition, working memory updating, and forgetting are related to increased tendency to ruminate.

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