Neurocognitive Correlates of Rumination Risk in Children: Comparing Competing Model Predictions in a Clinically Heterogeneous Sample

Abstract

The current study examined associations between rumination and executive function difficulties in preadolescent youth, using predictions outlined in the attentional scope and multiple systems models of rumination. This study aimed to (a) extend current conceptual models of rumination to youth, (b) clarify disparate model predictions regarding working memory updating (“updating”), inhibition, and shifting abilities, and (c) examine differential neurocognitive predictions between two forms of rumination, sadness and anger. One hundred and fifty-nine youths oversampled for ADHD and other forms of child psychopathology associated with executive dysfunction (aged 8–13; 53.5% male; 59.1% Caucasian) completed a battery of assessments, including self-report measures of rumination and computerized neurocognitive tasks. Multiple regression analyses were conducted assessing relations between rumination and each executive function, controlling for both sadness and anger rumination to assess their unique associations. Sadness rumination was associated with poorer updating (β = −0.18, p = 0.046) and shifting abilities (β = 0.20, p = 0.03) but not inhibition (β = −0.04, p = 0.62), offering partial support to the attentional scope and multiple systems models. In contrast, anger rumination was associated with better updating abilities (β = 0.20, p = 0.03) but not shifting (β = −0.15, p = 0.11) or inhibition (β = 0.08, p = 0.35). Together, these results suggest (a) developmental differences in the neurocognitive correlates associated with rumination risk in youth compared to findings from the adult literature, and (b) that the executive function correlates of children’s responses to negative emotions are affect-specific, such that sadness rumination is associated with difficulties replacing negative thoughts and shifting between mental sets, while anger rumination is associated with a better ability to maintain negative thoughts.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The work is part of ongoing clinical research investigating the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying pediatric attention and behavioral problems. Performance data on differing subsets of the current study’s tasks for subsets of the current sample were included in the datasets used to investigate conceptually-distinct hypotheses as follows: Data were reported in aggregate with other tasks to examine executive function heterogeneity (Kofler et al. 2019), working memory heterogeneity (Fosco et al. 2020), and as predictors of social functioning (Kofler et al. 2018), sluggish cognitive tempo (Kofler et al. 2019), and set shifting deficits (Irwin et al. 2019) in children with ADHD.

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Harmon, S.L., Kistner, J.A. & Kofler, M.J. Neurocognitive Correlates of Rumination Risk in Children: Comparing Competing Model Predictions in a Clinically Heterogeneous Sample. J Abnorm Child Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00661-4

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Keywords

  • Executive function
  • Rumination
  • Response styles
  • Anger
  • Sadness