Repetitive Thinking: A Transdiagnostic Process

What is this research about?

Professor Michelle Moulds’ work on repetitive thinking explores shared features of different types of repetitive thinking (e.g., rumination, worry) that are commonly reported by individuals with a range of psychological disorders. Theoretically, rumination and worry have been distinguished on the basis of their temporal focus: while rumination involves dwelling on the past, worry is characterised by future-oriented ‘what if’ thoughts. Accordingly, research on rumination has primarily been conducted in the context of depression, while worry has been most examined in anxiety disorders. 

Despite this distinction, there is evidence that these two types of thinking share many features, prompting a number of researchers to argue for the theoretical value of considering both under the broad umbrella of ‘repetitive thinking’. Given increasing evidence that repetitive thinking contributes to the persistence of a wide range of disorders, such a proposal has potentially significant implications for clinical assessment and treatment.

To date, work by Michelle’s team, and work conducted in collaboration with other researchers, has focused on (i) improving our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie repetitive thinking in a range of psychological conditions, including depression, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and postpartum depression/anxiety, and (ii) developing self-report assessment measures to index repetitive thinking across a range of disorders. The goal of this line of research is to understand how unhelpful types of repetitive thinking contribute to the persistence of psychological disorders in order to develop effective transdiagnostic therapies.

Current research students involved in this project

Ann Martin: Ann’s doctoral work seeks to understand the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for the persistence of repetitive thinking processes (i.e., worry, rumination). When faced with a stressful situation, most people engage in some repetitive thinking, along the lines of ‘why did this happen to me?’ Ann’s research investigates whether a deficit in the capacity to disengage from such repetitive thinking once it has begun is the mechanism responsible for persistent repetitive thinking in clinical disorders.

Recent publications relating this research

Samtani, S., & Moulds, M.L. (2016). Assessing repetitive thought in clinical psychology: A critical review of existing measures.

Mahoney, A.E.J., McEvoy, P.M., & Moulds, M.L. (2012). Psychometric properties of the Repetitive Thinking Questionnaire in a clinical sample. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26, 359-367.

Wong, Q.J.J., & Moulds, M.L. (2011). Impact of anticipatory processing versus distraction on multiple indices of anxiety in socially anxious individuals. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49, 700-706.

McEvoy, P.M., Mahoney, A., & Moulds, M.L. (2010). Are worry, rumination, and post-event processing one and the same? Development of the Repetitive Thinking Questionnaire. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24,509-519.

Recent grants awarded

Moulds, M.L. (2016-2018). UNSW PLuS Alliance Fellowship.


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