Repetitive Negative Thought and Executive Dysfunction: An Interactive Pathway to Emotional Distress

  • Nicholas Madian
  • Keith Bredemeier
  • Wendy Heller
  • Gregory A. Miller
  • Stacie L. WarrenEmail author
Original Article


Repetitive negative thought (RNT) is a transdiagnostic process that predicts the onset, severity, and recurrence of several psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. Despite progress in understanding the affective consequences of RNT, the mechanisms through which RNT contributes to clinical symptoms are not well understood. Executive function (EF), a set of cognitive processes that contributes to the organization of cognition and the regulation of emotion, was hypothesized to enhance the effect of RNT on negative affect (NA), a core symptom shared by anxiety and depression. The present study used latent variable modeling and hierarchical linear regression to test the contributions of RNT, EF, and their interactions to NA. Consistent with hypotheses, high levels of RNT were associated with higher NA, and EF deficits enhanced this association. Results provide evidence that the RNT-EF interaction represents a pathway in the development of NA, and by association, anxiety and depression.


Repetitive negative thought Executive function Anxiety Depression 


Author Contributions

Madian and Warren developed the study concept and design and contributed data to all analyses. Miller and Heller contributed data to all analyses from a larger project they conceived and directed. Bredemeier contributed data and analysis strategies to Analysis 1. Madian performed the literature search and data analyses under the mentorship of Warren. Madian drafted the initial version of the manuscript, which was revised by all authors. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.


Funding was provided by National Institute of Mental Health (Grant Nos. P50 MH079485, R01 MH61358), Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (US) and also by Department of Psychology, Palo Alto University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

This study was submitted in partial fulfillment of dissertation requirements at Palo Alto University for Nicholas Madian. This research was supported by NIMH (P50 MH079485, R01 MH61358) and the University of Illinois Department of Psychology funds awarded to authors Heller and Miller, and the Palo Alto University Department of Psychology funds awarded to author Warren. Author Bredemeier declares no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyPalo Alto UniversityPalo AltoUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  4. 4.Center for Health Assessment Research and TranslationUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology and Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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