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J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 Aug;121(3):559-69. doi: 10.1037/a0028808. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

"Asking why" from a distance: its cognitive and emotional consequences for people with major depressive disorder.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109, USA.


Although analyzing negative experiences leads to physical and mental health benefits among healthy populations, when people with depression engage in this process on their own they often ruminate and feel worse. Here we examine whether it is possible for adults with depression to analyze their feelings adaptively if they adopt a self-distanced perspective. We examined this issue by randomly assigning depressed and nondepressed adults to analyze their feelings surrounding a depressing life experience from either a self-distanced or a self-immersed perspective and then examined the implications of these manipulations for depressotypic thought accessibility, negative affect, implicit and explicit avoidance, and thought content. Four key results emerged. First, all participants were capable of self-distancing while analyzing their feelings. Second, participants who analyzed their feelings from a self-distanced perspective showed lower levels of depressotypic thought accessibility and negative affect compared to their self-immersed counterparts. Third, analyzing negative feelings from a self-distanced perspective led to an adaptive shift in the way people construed their experience--they recounted the emotionally arousing details of their experience less and reconstrued them in ways that promoted insight and closure. It did not promote avoidance. Finally, self-distancing did not influence negative affect or depressotypic thought accessibility among nondepressed participants. These findings suggest that whether depressed adults' attempts to analyze negative feelings lead to adaptive or maladaptive consequences may depend critically on whether they do so from a self-immersed or a self-distanced perspective.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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