Stress and Problem Solving
Why it is harder to solve problems when depressed?
When people are depressed and are faced with stressful problems in their lives, they sometimes fall prey to a pattern of thinking that is called dysphoric rumination. Dysphoric rumination involves thinking about how sad, lethargic, an unmotivated one feels but not doing anything about it or worrying about the problems that are making one depressed but not making any plans to fix the situation. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, recently presented the findings from a series of studies exploring the connection between dysphoric rumination and problem solving.
In each of three studies, participants took a pretest and were divided into groups, based on whether they were depressed or not. Then, either by looking over a list of words or reading a set of instructions, some participants were induced to ruminate and some were not. Afterwards, participants wrote about or worked through out loud several problems in their lives to assess the impact of dysphoric rumination on problem solving.
The research showed that dysphoric rumination leads to impairments in problem solving ability because people who think this way are less motivated to try to solve their problems. Interestingly, even though people who think this way believe that their problems are more unsolvable and more severe than they really are, they are not less confident in the solutions they come up with are not more pessimistic about how well their solutions would work if carried out. They are just less willing to try.
Source: Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K. L., Caldwell, N. D., & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor problem solvers: Clues from the phenomenology of dysphoric rumination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041-1060.