Is there a relationship between depression and rumination?

Do youThere is a relationship between depression and psychological rumination (The tendency to have recurring thoughts that we can’t get out of our heads)? Several studies have attempted to unravel the answer to this question. In this article, we bring you a theory that explains in detail what is the relationship between depression and a ruminant style, the theory of Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

In addition, we went to a review that analyzed the findings of 59 functional neuroimaging studies, and materialized the results achieved on this question.

    Relationship between depression and rumination: the Nolen-Hoeksema theory

    If we investigate within the group of explanatory theories of depression, we find one that establishes a relationship between depression and rumination. it is response styles theory, proposed by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (1959 – 2013) in 1991. Nolen-Hoeksema was American professor of psychology at Yale University (United States).

    Specifically, what Nolen-Hoeksema says in his response styles theory is that there are certain factors that determine the course of depression; these factors have to do with how the subject reacts to the first symptoms of depression. This response, also called the “ruminative style”, influences the duration of the depression and its severity.

    Thus, by specifying even more, the author explains that a style of ruminative response to depression, maintains or exacerbates the symptoms of this one.

    In other words, according to this author, the relationship between depression and rumination is as follows: rumination of depressive symptoms is chronic depression and sometimes exacerbates its symptoms. The opposite happens with an active style based on distraction or problem solving.

    Ruminative response style

    But what is a ruminative response style? It is the mental process of focusing our attention on the symptoms of the disorder and its implications for us, without doing anything to alleviate these symptoms.

    In other words, it is a process from which adaptation strategies are not put in place; in simpler terms, it’s about “changing things” without stopping to think about it, Take care of them, without worrying about them or doing anything to change them. It would be like “going into a loop”.

    On the other hand, the author of the theory which postulates a relation between depression and rumination, attributes the origin of the rumiativo style to an infantile learning by modeling (Through role models, for example parents, who also exhibit a ruminative style), added to socialization practices that do not provide the person with a repertoire of more adaptive behaviors needed to cope with depression. Thus, these two factors would explain the origin of the ruminant style.

      How Does Rumination Affect Depression?

      S. Nolen-Hoeksema goes further with his theory to understand the relationship between depression and rumination, and proposes a number of mechanisms that would explain the negative effects of ruminant style on depression. What are these mechanisms? These are four:

      1. Vicious circles

      The first mechanism that explains why a ruminative style in depression has negative effects on the person has to do with vicious circles, which occur between depressed mood and negative cognitions.

      So, we “loop” as follows: our mood is depressed, which affects our thinking with more negative cognitions; in turn, these cognitions increase depressed mood (and both elements respond).

      2. No generation of effective solutions

      On the other hand, another mechanism that explains the relationship between depression and rumination is the decrease in effective solutions to everyday problems.

      In other words, we generate less effective solutions to the problems (if any) because instead of thinking about these solutions, we flip the problems (ruminative style).

      3. Interference

      The fourth of the mechanisms that allows us to understand the relationship between depression and rumination is interference that occurs with instrumental behaviors that would provide us with positive reinforcement, As well as a sense of control.

      That is, the style of ruminants makes it difficult for these behaviors to occur (or interferes with their functioning), while preventing the feeling of control necessary in depressive disorders and this would allow us to move forward in the disorder.

      4. Weakened social support

      Finally, there is a weakening of social support, which this results in rejection by others, even in self-criticism.

      This makes sense to understand because, when our interpretation of reality and our way of managing life is based on a constant ruminative style, in the end the people around us tire of these behaviors and move away, because they see that we do nothing to deal with depression (or ask for help, or put things in perspective or give them the importance they deserve, or recognize that we have a problem …).

      Research and results

      Following the theory of Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, which advocates a relationship between depression and rumination, a series of experimental studies have been carried out on the responses of ruminants. The results of the same were as follows.

      1. Types of attributions

      People with a ruminative style perform more negative and overall attributions to whatever happens to them (i.e. causal attributions).

        2. Accessibility to memories

        Accessibility to negative memories in these people is greater than in people without a ruminant style.

        3. Pessimism

        There is a pessimism and a negative interpretation of biased reality, In people with a ruminative style in the context of depression.

        4. Bad interpersonal solutions

        Finally, these people generate poorer interpersonal solutions, making them less effective (for example in the face of a conflict with another person).

        Scientific journal: what does neuroscience say?

        Beyond S. Nolen-Hoeksema’s ruminant style theory, to better understand the relationship between depression and rumination, we used a scientific review conducted in 2016 by Rayner, Jackson and Wilson, which analyzes results from up to 59 functional neuroimaging studies in adults with unipolar depression.

        This review also analyzes the relationship between the brain networks involved in cognitive processes during a depressive disorder and the symptoms of the disorder. More precisely, analyzes the relationship between the abnormal functioning of these brain structures and depressive symptoms.


        The results of this review indicate that there are two different neurocognitive networks, which may largely explain the symptoms of depression. These two networks are: the Autobiographical Memory Network (AMN) and the Cognitive Control Network (CCN).

        More precisely, what was discovered thanks to this review is that the hyperactivity of the first network, the autobiographical memory network, is linked to three types of symptoms in depressed patients: Rumination, self-blame and pathological parenthood of children.

        On the other hand, it has been observed that the hypoactivation or abnormal functioning of the other network, the cognitive control network, is linked to the following symptoms in these patients: negative automatic thoughts (the famous “PA”). Aaron Beck), cognitive distortions and low concentration.

        In addition, it should be noted that the configuration of these networks can change over time in people; it is also linked to a variation in depressive symptoms over time (ie, a fluctuating course of depression).

        Neurocognitive networks and depression

        According to this review, we can say that depression, in addition to being a multifactorial disorder, involving biological, social, psychological factors … could also be framed as a disorder of neurocognitive networks, which links neurobiology to psychiatric practice.

        It can be of great help for researchers, doctors, psychologists, etc., and pave the way from a neuroscience point of view, to help us understand and deal with this and other mental disorders in the future. .

        Bibliographical references:

        • American Psychiatric Association -APA- (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
        • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volumes I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
        • García Cruz, R, Valencia Ortiz, AI, Hernández-Martínez, A. and Rocha Sánchez, ET (2017). Ruminative Thinking and Student Depression: Rethinking the Impact of Gender. Inter-American Journal of Psychology, 51 (3): 406-416.
        • Rayner, G., Jackson, G., and Wilson, S. (2016). Cognitive-related cognitive networks underlie symptoms of unipolar depression: evidence from a systematic review. Journals of Neuroscience and Biological Behavior, 61: 53-65.

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