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Behav Res Ther. 2011 Dec;49(12):867-74. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2011.10.001. Epub 2011 Oct 12.

Perseverative thought: a robust predictor of response to emotional challenge in generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) frequently co-occur, yet the reasons for their comorbidity remain poorly understood. In the present experiment, we tested whether a tendency to engage in negative, repetitive thinking constitutes a common risk process for the two disorders. A mixed sample of adults with comorbid GAD-MDD (n=50), GAD only (n=35), MDD only (n=34), or no lifetime psychopathology (n=35) was administered noncontingent failure and success feedback on consecutive performance tasks. Perseverative thought (PT), measured by negative thought intrusions during a baseline period of focused breathing, emerged as a powerful prospective predictor of responses to this experimental challenge. Participants reporting more frequent negative thought intrusions at baseline, irrespective of thought content or diagnostic status, exhibited a stronger negative response to failure that persisted even after subsequent success. Higher PT over the course of the experiment was associated with later behavioral avoidance, with negative affect and other traits closely linked to anxiety and depression, and with the presence and severity of GAD and MDD. These findings provide evidence for a broadly-defined PT trait that is shared by GAD and MDD and contributes to adverse outcomes in these disorders.

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