Rumination and selective attention: An investigation of the impaired disengagement hypothesis
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
I wish to place an embargo on my thesis to be made universally accessible via ORE, the online institutional repository, for a standard period of 18 months because I wish to publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from my thesis.
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from my thesis.
The primary aim of this thesis was to investigate the relationship between rumination and selective attention, in particular, whether the tendency to ruminate is associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative information. It is well-established that the tendency to ruminate in response to negative mood is a key vulnerability factor in the development of depression (Nolen-Hoekseman, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008; Watkins, 2008), but attempts to understand the underlying processes contributing to heightened ruminative disposition have been relatively limited. Recently, a number of researchers have suggested that rumination may be characterised by biased attentional processing of negative information, particularly that individuals with high levels of ruminative disposition may have difficulty disengaging their attention from negative information (e.g., Koster, De Lissnyder, Derakshan, & De Raedt, 2011). Studies One and Two each investigated the relationship between individual differences in ruminative disposition and selective attention for negative information, using a modified dot-probe task designed by Grafton, Watkins, and MacLeod (2012) to enable the discrete assessment of biases in attentional engagement and disengagement. Study One found that heightened levels of dispositional ruminative brooding, as assessed by both the Ruminative Responses Scale (RRS; Nolen-Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991) and an in-vivo assessment of ruminative disposition, were associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative relative to positive information. Similarly, Study Two also found that heightened levels of ruminative disposition were associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative information, particularly for depression relevant stimuli presented for 1000ms. Study Three sought to extend these findings using an eye-tracking assessment of selective attention to measure the spontaneous allocation of attention between stimuli. However, ruminative disposition was not significantly associated with any index of attentional bias during the eye-tracking assessment, neither with biased attentional disengagement, nor with biased attentional engagement or maintenance of attention. Study Four then sought to replicate findings from Study Two using a selected sample of individuals with high and low levels of ruminative disposition. Participants in the high rumination group demonstrated greater attentional bias for depression relevant negative stimuli presented for 1000ms in comparison to those in the low rumination group. However, this between group difference reflected a general attentional preference for negative relative to positive stimuli (i.e., composite of attentional engagement and disengagement bias), but no specific difference in attentional disengagement bias or attentional engagement bias was observed. Finally, Study Five took a first step towards investigate the causal relationship between rumination and selective attention by investigating the causal effect of rumination on attentional bias. Although there no main effect of induced rumination on attentional bias was observed, the effect of induced rumination on attentional bias was found to be moderated by ruminative disposition. However, contrary to hypotheses, individuals with low levels of ruminative disposition demonstrated an attentional bias for valence-incongruent stimuli, which shifted to a bias for valence-congruent stimuli as ruminative disposition increased. Overall, there was support across the studies for the primary hypothesis that heightened ruminative disposition is associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative information. However, the findings do not suggest that ruminative disposition is exclusively associated with attentional disengagement bias, but instead indicate that facilitated attentional engagement may also be involved under some circumstances.
Southworth, F. Grafton, B., MacLeod, C., & Watkins, E. (2016). Heightened ruminative disposition is associated with impaired attentional disengagement from negative relative to positive information: Support for the “impaired disengagement” hypothesis. Cognition and Emotion. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/02699931.2015.1124843
Grafton, B., Southworth, F., Watkins, E., & MacLeod, C. (2015). Stuck in a sad place: Biased attentional disengagement in rumination. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/emo0000103
PhD in Psychology