July 15, 2007

Someone to Complain with Isn’t Necessarily a Good Thing, Especially for Teenage Girls

New research shows that extensive discussion of problems may have a negative effect on emotional adjustment in girls.

WASHINGTON--Friendships that lend themselves to ruminating about problems may actually contribute to emotional difficulties in girls, according to new research. A study in the July issue of the journal Developmental Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, finds that girls are more likely than boys of the same age group to develop anxiety and depression as a result of extensive conversations with friends about their problems.

Co-rumination, or excessively talking with another person about problems, including rehashing them and dwelling on the negative feelings associated with them, is thought to have both costs and benefits for people experiencing unpleasant situations. This six-month longitudinal study involved 813 third-, fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade girls and boys, and tested whether co-rumination is associated with depression and anxiety while simultaneously benefiting girls and boys by strengthening friendships.

For girls, co-rumination predicted increased positive friendship quality, including feelings of closeness between friends. However, the study also found that girls who co-ruminate had increased depressive and anxiety symptoms, which in turn, contributed to greater co-rumination.

"Having anxiety symptoms (and presumably, associated heightened levels of worries and concerns) and a high-quality friend to talk to may provide a uniquely reinforcing context for co-rumination," stated Amanda J. Rose, Ph.D, lead author and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri - Columbia.

Rose and her colleagues speculated that co-rumination may lead girls to think about problems in a way that is different from boys, and that is more closely linked to emotional problems. For example, girls may be more likely than boys to take personal responsibility for failures, according to the study's authors.

For boys, co-rumination predicted only greater positive friendship quality and not increased depression and anxiety. "These findings are interesting because girls' intentions when discussing problems may be to give and seek positive support. However, these conversations appear to contribute to increased depression," said Rose.

The research cautions parents and adults against being lulled into a false sense of security about youth, especially girls, with seemingly supportive friendships. While other studies indicate that adults should worry about socially isolated youth, this research raises the issue that youth in seemingly supportive friendships may also be at risk for depression and anxiety if the friendship is based on a pattern of co-rumination.

Article: Prospective Associations of Co-Rumination with Friendship and Emotional Adjustment Considering the Socioemotional Trade-Offs of Co-Rumination. Amanda J. Rose, Wendy Carlson, and Erika M. Waller, University of Missouri -- Columbia. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 43, No. 4

Amanda J. Rose can be reached by phone at (573) 884-4669 or by e-mail.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.