Cueing an unresolved personal goal causes persistent ruminative self-focus: an experimental evaluation of control theories of rumination.
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Control theory predicts that the detection of goal discrepancies initiates ruminative self-focus (Martin & Tesser, 1996). Despite the breadth of applications and interest in control theory, there is a lack of experimental evidence evaluating this prediction. The present study provided the first experimental test of this prediction. METHODS: We examined uninstructed state rumination in response to the cueing of resolved and unresolved goals in a non-clinical population using a novel measure of online rumination. RESULTS: Consistent with control theory, cueing an unresolved goal resulted in significantly greater recurrent intrusive ruminative thoughts than cueing a resolved goal. Individual differences in trait rumination moderated the impact of the goal cueing task on the extent of state rumination: individuals who had a stronger tendency to habitually ruminate were more susceptible to the effects of cueing goal discrepancies. LIMITATIONS: The findings await replication in a clinically depressed sample where there is greater variability and higher levels of trait rumination. CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that control theories of goal pursuit provide a valuable framework for understanding the circumstances that trigger state rumination. Additionally, our measure of uninstructed online state rumination was found to be a valid and sensitive index of the extent and temporal course of state rumination, indicating its value for further investigating the proximal causes of state rumination.
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