Rumination in Depression

What is this research about?

Professor Michelle Moulds’ current research on depression is comprised of experimental and clinical studies that examine the nature and consequences of an unhelpful cognitive process that is characteristic of depressed individuals: rumination. Depressive rumination refers to a pattern of repetitive thinking in which a depressed person becomes ‘stuck’ in a cycle of analysing the reasons for their mood, replaying events from the past and evaluating themselves negatively.  

One focus of this work has been on seeking to understand the impact of rumination on memory. To date, Michelle’s team has demonstrated that engaging in rumination has a host of adverse consequences for how individuals who are depressed, as well as individuals who have previously been depressed, remember negative as well as positive events from their past. The team’s work has also shown that recurrent, intrusive memories of negative events that come to mind unbidden are also commonly experienced by depressed and formerly depressed individuals.

The primary objectives of this line of work are to (i) conduct basic science experiments in the laboratory to advance our understanding of how the tendency to engage in rumination contributes to the persistence of the memory disturbances that depressed individuals experience, in order to (ii) improve the effectiveness of existing cognitive behavioural treatments for depression.

Current research students involved in this project

Ly Huynh: Ly’s doctoral work investigates the nature and direction of the relationship between ruminative thinking and the tendency to recall memories from a third-person, ‘observer’ perspective. Building on the findings of her first set of experiments, in the second phase of her thesis Ly generated and tested a novel manipulation that was designed to override these unhelpful recall tendencies and teach depressed individuals to recall positive memories in a way that maximises their capacity to bolster positive mood.

Katie Chung: The more episodes of depression that an individual experiences, the greater the risk that they will become depressed again in the future. The goal of Katie’s doctoral work is to understand why; specifically, to improve our understanding of the cognitive processes, such as rumination, that are responsible for increasing one’s vulnerability to experiencing recurrent depression.

Shanta Dey: Shanta’s PhD examines the consequences of engaging in rumination for depressed individuals’ capacity to make decisions. Her experiments investigate how ruminating influences a range of important steps that are involved in the decision-making process, from procrastinating about making a decision through to experiencing post-decisional regret.

Recent publications relating to this research

Mooren, N., Krans, J., Näring, G.W.B., Moulds, M.L., & van Minnen, A. (2016). Vantage perspective during encoding: The effects on phenomenological memory characteristics. Consciousness & Cognition, 42, 142-149.

Hetherington, K., & Moulds, M.L. (2015). Abstract recall of a happy memory to repair sad

mood in dysphoria: a possible link to negative cognition. Memory, 23, 817-828.

Krans, J., de Bree, J., & Moulds, M.L. (2015). Involuntary cognitions in everyday life: Exploration of type, quality, content and possible function. Frontiers in Psychiatry: Affective Disorders and Psychosomatic Research, doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00007.

 Newby, J.M., Lang, T.J., Werner-Seidler, A., Holmes, E.A., & Moulds, M.L. (2014). Alleviating distressing intrusive memories in depression: a comparison between computerised cognitive bias modification and cognitive behavioural education. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 56, 60-67.

Werner-Seidler, A., & Moulds, M.L. (2012). Mood repair and processing mode in depression. Emotion, 12, 470-478.

Recent grants awarded

Moulds, M.L. (2011-2013). Rumination and deficits in the recall of positive autobiographical memories. NHMRC Project Grant, $254,208.

Moulds, M.L. (2009-2013). Understanding and Predicting the Role of Memory in Depression Recurrence. Australian Research Fellowship (ARF), Australian Research Council, $350,000.


For further information on this research, contact Professor Michelle Moulds.