, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 165-172

Is Timing Everything? Sequential Effects of Rumination and Distraction on Interpersonal Problem Solving

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Abstract

Rumination has been closely linked to risk for depression, whereas distraction has been hypothesized to decrease sad mood and to promote effective problem solving. This study investigates the hypothesis that it is not the use of specific strategies but rather their timing that is critical. Following a negative mood induction, participants were assigned to either immediately ruminate or distract followed by a second set of instructions to either ruminate or distract. Participants who initially engaged in distraction, compared to rumination, generated more effective solutions to interpersonal problems even when they subsequently engaged in rumination immediately prior to the problem solving task. In contrast, participants who engaged in distraction prior to the problem solving task generated less effective solutions when distraction followed a period of rumination. Importantly this effect was not due to differences in current mood state. The results suggest that the timing of the use of emotion regulation strategies is critical.