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Aging Ment Health. 2017 Nov;21(11):1192-1196. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2016.1211619. Epub 2016 Aug 2.

Repetitive thinking, executive functioning, and depressive mood in the elderly.

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a Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain , Louvain-la-Neuve , Belgium.
b Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology , Université catholique de Louvain , Louvain-la-Neuve , Belgium.



Previous findings and the depressive-executive dysfunction hypothesis suggest that the established association between executive functioning and depression is accounted for by repetitive thinking. Investigating the association between executive functioning, repetitive thinking, and depressive mood, the present study empirically tested this mediational model in a sample of older adults, while focusing on both concrete and abstract repetitive thinking. This latter distinction is important given the potential protective role of concrete repetitive thinking, in contrast to the depletive effect of abstract repetitive thinking.


A sample of 43 elderly volunteers, between 75 and 95 years of age, completed tests of executive functioning (the Stroop test, the Trail Making test, and the Fluency test), and questionnaires of repetitive thinking and depression.


Positive correlations were observed between abstract repetitive thinking and depressive mood, and between concrete repetitive thinking and executive functioning; a negative correlation was observed between depressive mood and executive functioning. Further, mediational analysis evidenced that the relation between executive functioning and depressive mood was mediated by abstract repetitive thinking.


The present data provide, for the first time, empirical support to the depressive-executive dysfunction hypothesis: the lack of executive resources would favor a mode of abstract repetitive thinking, which in turn would deplete mood. It suggests that clinical intervention targeting depression in the elderly should take into consideration repetitive thinking modes and the executive resources needed to disengage from rumination.


Executive functions; depression; elderly; repetitive thinking; rumination

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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