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Does Rumination Cause “Inhibitory” Deficits?

Henrietta Roberts, Edward R. Watkins, Andy J. Wills

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Inhibitory processes have been implicated in depressive rumination. Inhibitory deficits may cause difficulties in disengaging from ruminative content (e.g., Joormann, 2005), or rumination may constitute a working memory load, causing deficits in inhibitory control (e.g., Hertel, 2004). These hypotheses have different implications for the treatment of depression. We conducted a systematic review of existing evidence, and conclude that most studies do not unambiguously measure inhibition. The majority of published evidence is correlational, and thus supports neither causal direction. No published experimental studies have investigated the inhibitory deficit -? rumination causal direction, and only six have investigated the rumination -? inhibitory deficit hypothesis. In two of these studies the dependent variable has low construct validity. One study reported no effect of rumination on interference, and three did not control for mood effects. There is need for carefully designed experimental research that has the potential to investigate these proposed causal mechanisms.