Ruminating are we?

November 21, 2018

to ruminate (intransitive verb) :

1. to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed : chew the cud

2. to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 


Ever found yourself unable to stop thinking about something? Perhaps about that interview you had yesterday, or maybe that date you had last week, that argument you had with your partner, or about the ridiculous amount of college loans you have to pay off? No matter how hard you try to think about something else, your mind keeps swirling back to that unavoidable something, ruminating around and around an endless spiral of repetitive thoughts.... 


My best friend and I found ourselves fascinated by our own ruminative minds and decided we should write our dissertations on it.


We designed an experiment where we had participants play a word association game with an avatar on a computer screen, while we measured their ruminative tendencies, mind wandering thoughts, their pitch, and eye movements. We found out some interesting things:


1. Rumination takes us away from the present, leading our minds astray. Often, it leads us worry more about our task performance (i.e.:how well we are doing on the task, how much longer the task will last, etc.). 

2. Rumination leads people to imitate others less. (Imitation is a sign of social acceptance, congruence and rapport.)

3. Rumination leads people to generate more negative words in a word association game.

4. Rumination leads people to blink more during a word association game (Blinking is a sign of internally oriented attention)


What does all of this mean? By observing people's behaviours when speaking (i.e.: their pitch, their words, and their eye movements), we are able to observe cues to a ruminative style of thinking.


Is ruminating a bad thing?  It depends. If chewing over something again again serves a purpose, as for cows, to digest and actively find solutions to their problems, not at all; however, if it leads people to hopelessly worry, it may have negative consequences (i.e.: lead to more negative thoughts, less rapport, and greater social distance from others). 


Want to dig deeper into our findings in this research? Check out our paper by clicking below:








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