A researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia has found that girls who talk very extensively about their problems with friends are likely to become more anxious and depressed.
The research was conducted by Amanda Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science. The six-month study, which included boys and girls, examined the effects of co-rumination – excessively talking with friends about problems and concerns. Rose discovered that girls co-ruminate more than boys, especially in adolescence, and that girls who co-ruminated the most in the fall of the school year were most likely to be more depressed and anxious by the spring.
“When girls co-ruminate, they’re spending such a high percentage of their time dwelling on problems and concerns that it probably makes them feel sad and more hopeless about the problems because those problems are in the forefront of their minds. Those are symptoms of depression,” Rose said. “In terms of anxiety, co-ruminating likely makes them feel more worried about the problems, including about their consequences. Co-rumination also may lead to depression and anxiety because it takes so much time – time that could be used to engage in other, more positive activities that could help distract youth from their problems. This is especially true for problems that girls can’t control, such as whether a particular boy likes them, or whether they get invited to a party that all of the popular kids are attending.”
The study involved 813 third, fifth, seventh and ninth grade students. The participants answered questionnaires that assessed co-rumination, depression, anxiety and the quality of their best friendship in the fall and spring of the school year.
Ironically, although co-rumination was related to increased depression and anxiety, Rose also found that co-rumination was associated with positive friendship quality, including feelings of closeness between friends. Boys who co-ruminated also developed closer friendships across the school year but did not develop greater depressive and anxiety symptoms over time.
“For years, we have encouraged kids to find friends who they can talk to about their problems, and with whom they can give and receive social support,” Rose said. “In general, talking about problems and getting social support is linked with being healthy. What’s intriguing about theses findings is that co-rumination likely represents too much of a good thing. Some kids, especially girls, are taking talking about problems to an extreme. When that happens, the balance tips, and talking about problems with friends can become emotionally unhealthy.”
Rose said adolescents should be encouraged to talk about their problems, but only in moderation and without co-ruminating.
“They also should engage in other activities, like sports, which can help them take their minds off their problems, especially problems that they can’t control,” she said.
The study, “Prospective Associations of Co-Rumination With Friendship and Emotional Adjustment: Considering the Socioemotional Trade-Offs of Co-rumination,” will be published in the July issue of Development Psychology.