Posted by: mvanboekel | November 5, 2011

What is academic rumination?

Understanding Rumination

The video below provides a good background to rumination with good examples
on how to cope with ruminative responses to stressful situations.

putting in space here

To sum up the video, rumination can be defined as uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts that arise from a stressful or negative event.   Rumination is often broken into two components, brooding (thoughts that focus on the consequences and negative emotions that follow from the failure) and reflection (thoughts that focus on problem solving when confronted with a failure). 

Because rumination is uncontrollable and repetitive, both brooding and reflection are seen as maladaptive responses to failure immediately following the event.  However, given time, thoughts that deal with problem solving in the form of reflection, has positive qualities. While brooding is associated with many negative consequences in both the short and long term.

Researchers have suggested that the rumination in conjunction with negative affect sets in motion a cycle of adverse consequences such as: increased stress, impaired concentration, impaired motivation, poor problem solving, and negatively biased thinking. Within this cycle, feedback from any given area will impact others within the cycle maintaining the depressed mood and rumination (6).

Negative consequences of ruminating

Ruminative responses have also been linked to:

a)  impaired problem solving (2, 4, 9, 11),
b)  reduced probability of enacting a plan (12),
c)  negative bias on free recall of memories (5),
d) difficulties regulating learning due to cognitive inflexibility (1),
e)  and poor social problem solving (11).

What might this look like in a university setting?

Let’s use Jane as our example. Jane received a D on her first History essay.  She began thinking about how this grade will effect her overall course grade, which will impact her overall GPA, having an knock on effect keeping her from entering med school.  These thoughts were persistent, and were with her most when she was trying to sleep and while in class.  She noticed feelings of depression, and a reduced motivation to attempt upcoming assignments.  Even though Jane was doing well in other classes she continued to focus on her History mark.  Eventually she noticed that her marks in her other classes were beginning to suffer, she was making the same mistakes in all of her classes, she was feeling stressed and very unmotivated.

What we can see from this example is that Jane suffered an initial setback.  She began ruminating about her mark, and as a result became stuck in the ruminative cycle described above.  This is all too common amongst university students, and it is important for students to understand this cycle so they can prevent it from impacting their learning.

NEXT PAGE: Rumination and the self-regulated learning process

BACK TO: Dealing with negative feedback-overviewt



1. Davis, R. N., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). Cognitive inflexibility among ruminators and nonruminators. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24(6), 699-711.

2. Donaldson, C., & Lam, D. (2004). Rumination, mood and social problem-solving in major depression. Psychological Medicine, 34(7), 1309-1318.

3. Koole, S., (2011).  The psychology of emotion regulation: An integrative review.  Cognition & Emotion, 23, 4-41.

4. Lyubomirsky, S., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1995). Effects of self-focused rumination on negative thinking and interpersonal problem-solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 176-190.

5. Lyubomirsky, S., Caldwell, N. D., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1998). Effects of ruminative and distracting responses to depressed mood on retrieval of autobiographical memories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 166-177.

6. Lyubomirsky, S., & Tkach, C. (2004). The consequences of dysphoric rumination. In C. Papageourgiou & A. Wells (Eds.), Depressive rumination: Nature, theory and treatment (pp. 21-41). Chichester, England: Wiley.

7. Martin, J. (1999). [Creation of Multi-Domain Rumination Scale: MDRS]. Unpublished data.

7. Pekrun, R., Elliot, A. J., & Maier, M. A. (2009). Achievement goals and achievement emotions: Testing a model of their joint relations with academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(1), 115-135.

8. Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Titz, W., & Perry, R. P. (2002). Academic emotions in students’ self-regulated learning and achievement: a program of qualitative and quantitative research. Educational Psychologist, 37(2), 91-105.

9. Raes, F., Hermans, D., Williams, J. M. G., Demyttenaere, K., Sabbe, B., Pieters, G., & Eelen, P. (2005). Reduced specificity of autobiographical memory. A mediator between rumination and ineffective social problem-solving in major depression? Journal of Affective Disorders, 87, 331-335.

10. Treynor, W., Gonzales, R., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Rumination reconsidered: A psychometric analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 247-259.

11. van Randenborgh, A., de Jong-Meyer, R., & Hu ̈ffmeier, J. (2010). Rumination fosters indecision in dysphoria. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66, 229–248.

12. Ward, A., Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Can’t quite commit: Rumination and uncertainty. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(1), 96-107.

13. Watkins, E., & Baracaia, S. (2002). Rumination and social problem-solving in depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40, 1179-1189.

14. Webster, E. A., & Hadwin, A. F. (2011, April).  Investigating university students’ emotional experiences related to their studying goals. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. Webster, E. A., & Hadwin, A. F. (2011, April).


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