Reducing rumination through exploring abstract values
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Current research proposes that rumination, perseverating on thoughts about one's feelings and problems, predicts the severity, likelihood, and duration of depression (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000; Spasojevic & Alloy, 2001). One factor that might affect rumination outcomes is the level of abstraction one adopts when thinking about negative experiences. A growing body of research demonstrates that adopting a non-abstract, concrete perspective (e.g., focusing on specific details and sensations) reduces rumination (e.g., Watkins, Baeyens, & Read, 2009). Additionally, some empirical evidence suggests that abstract thinking (e.g., focusing on values, meaning, and general concepts) increases rumination when focusing on negative content (e.g., Watkins, 2004). In contrast, other experimental studies suggest that there are types of abstract processing that reduce rumination (Kross & Ayduk 2008; Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011). This study built on the research supporting positive effects of abstract processing. The primary aim of this study was to determine if there are types of abstract processing that, when used in conjunction with concrete processing, can reduce rumination and can do so to a greater extent than concrete processing alone. Participants were asked to examine negative experiences that were particularly bothersome and write about them from one of three perspectives: a) a mixed condition that encouraged participants to explore their abstract values and connect them to concrete thoughts and actions; b) a concrete condition that encouraged thinking only about concrete thoughts and actions; and c) a control condition that directed participants to write about their daily routines. A sample of 252 college students completed measures of rumination, OGM, and depression at pre-intervention, post-intervention, and a two week follow-up. Results indicated that the treatment effects significantly interacted with initial depression, such that participants who had high initial levels of depression had significantly lower rumination and depression in the mixed and concrete conditions compared to the control condition following the intervention. Findings suggest that treatment differences in depression were meditated by changes in rumination. The limitations and implications of the results are discussed in the context of the current literature.