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Psychol Bull. 2008 Mar;134(2):163-206. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.163.

Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought.

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Mood Disorders Centre, School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Washington Singer Laboratories, UK.


The author reviews research showing that repetitive thought (RT) can have constructive or unconstructive consequences. The main unconstructive consequences of RT are (a) depression, (b) anxiety, and (c) difficulties in physical health. The main constructive consequences of RT are (a) recovery from upsetting and traumatic events, (b) adaptive preparation and anticipatory planning, (c) recovery from depression, and (d) uptake of health-promoting behaviors. Several potential principles accounting for these distinct consequences of RT are identified within this review: (a) the valence of thought content, (b) the intrapersonal and situational context in which RT occurs, and (c) the level of construal (abstract vs. concrete processing) adopted during RT. Of the existing models of RT, it is proposed that an elaborated version of the control theory account provides the best theoretical framework to account for its distinct consequences.

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