Date of Award

Fall 8-21-2020

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Rebecca Schwartz-Mette

Second Committee Member

Cynthia Erdley

Third Committee Member

Emily Haigh

Additional Committee Members

Shannon McCoy

Shawn Ell


To date, rumination and interventions for rumination have largely been verbal in focus. Rumination has been conceptualized as dwelling on negative affect in the form of verbal thought, and interventions aim to interrupt cycles of rumination using verbal strategies. Yet, emerging evidence suggests that many individuals dwell on negative affect in the form of imagery (e.g., Lawrence, Haigh, Siegle, & Schwartz-Mette, 2018) and that imagery-based interventions may be even more effective (e.g., Arntz, 2012). This is not surprising as imagery is more affectively arousing (Holmes & Mathews, 2010), physiologically stimulating (Vrana, Cuthbert, & Lang, 1986), and realistic/vivid (Mathews, Ridgeway, & Holmes, 2013) than verbal thought. No research, however, had compared imagery- and verbally-based rumination and distraction. It was especially important to examine these processes in adolescents, when rumination emerges (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998) and early intervention is key.

Using a multi-method experimental design, adolescents (N = 145; age range: 13-17 years) completed assessments of trait rumination, depressive symptoms, and rumination style. They then experienced Cyberball (i.e., a negative mood induction) followed by rumination or distraction in the form of imagery or verbal thought. Affect ratings, heart rate variability (HRV), and galvanic skin response (GSR) data were collected. Adolescents rated realism and vividness post-rumination/distraction. Imagery-based rumination was expected to result in a more maladaptive response than verbally-based rumination and imagery-based distraction was expected to result in a more adaptive response than verbally-based distraction.

Imagery-based rumination was just as impairing, if not more impairing, than verbally-based rumination. Trait rumination was most highly associated with depressive symptoms when adolescents ruminated in the form of imagery. When induced, imagery- and verbally-based rumination led to similar affective, HRV, and GSR response. Imagery-based distraction was more effective than verbally-based distraction. Compared with verbally-based distraction, imagery-based distraction promoted a more adaptive affective, HRV, and GSR response.

Findings emphasize the need to evaluate and treat both imagery- and verbally-based rumination. Imagery-based distraction may provide an especially effective means of intervening, despite the field’s historic focus on verbally-based treatments. Consideration of imagery-based rumination and use of imagery-based interventions in adolescence is especially vital given the potential benefits of early, effective intervention.