Rumination changes the brain’s response to social rejection

Rumination changes the brain’s response to social rejection

summary: A new study reveals that teenage girls who ruminate show different patterns of brain activity when faced with social rejection. Using fMRI scans, research demonstrates increased activity in brain regions related to self-concept and emotional states in girls prone to rumination.

This study suggests that rumination deeply internalizes negative reactions into an individual’s self-concept. These findings can guide targeted interventions to help girls reframe negative experiences and mitigate long-term mental health impacts.

Key facts:

  1. Adolescent girls who ruminate show increased brain activity in self-concept areas during social rejection, as seen on fMRI scans.
  2. The study included 116 girls between the ages of 16 and 19, using a unique approach to measure the brain’s response to rejection.
  3. This research underscores the importance of addressing rumination in adolescence to prevent long-term mental health problems.

source: University of California at Davis

Everyone thinks about the bad things that happen to them. Whether it’s a bad breakup, an embarrassing failure, or simply when someone is mean, it can be difficult to stop thinking about what happened and why. For people who ruminate a lot, this negative thinking pattern can cause lasting mental health problems.

A research team led by the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, found that teenage girls with a stronger tendency to ruminate show different patterns of brain activity when faced with social rejection.

The study was published in December in the journal Developmental cognitive neuroscience.

“Everyone experiences rejection, but not everyone experiences it in the same way,” says Amanda Goyer, associate director of the Center for Mind and Brain and professor of human ecology at UC Davis. “By identifying brain processes that cause differences in the tendency to ruminate, we can offer people better ways to avoid long-term harm.”

Experiencing rejection during a brain scan

The direct experience of social rejection leaves distinct imprints on the brain that can be measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. This type of scan can detect subtle changes in blood flow and electrical activity in different parts of the brain. The wide range of what one feels and thinks can be seen with a real-time fMRI scan.

In this study, 116 girls between the ages of 16 and 19 participated in two tasks to measure how their brains respond to social rejection. During the first visit, participants were shown photos of 60 teens their age and were asked to select 30 teens they would like to chat with.

On the second visit, participants were placed in an fMRI scanner and told which of the teens in the images wanted to chat with them and which ones did not. While in the fMRI machine, the girls were also asked how these responses made them feel — how they felt rejected by someone they chose during the first visit. The data was collected from 2012 to 2014 and was analyzed in 2023 when the researchers applied new testing methods.

How negative emotions encode self-image

Functional MRI has shown that rejection increases activity in parts of the brain known to play a role in how we define our identity.

All of these parts of the brain become active with increased blood flow and electrical activity when we think about ourselves, our emotional states, and when we recall our memories.

Telling a peer you didn’t want to chat with them was a form of social rejection, and this rejection showed up in brain scans to varying degrees for each girl. However, the girls who reported a tendency to ruminate had the highest activity on brain scans.

“Our results suggest that girls who tend to ruminate experience more than just temporary sadness after rejection,” Goyer said. “They internalize these negative reactions deeply into their self-concept.”

Change the story to stop rumination

These results show that unique brain processes occur after rejection in girls who have a high tendency to ruminate. This knowledge makes it possible to target interventions that can treat rumination so it doesn’t cause bigger problems later, Goyer said.

“Our study suggests that it can make a difference to reframe their negative experiences in a way that makes them feel better afterward instead of worse,” Guyer said.

Besides Guyer, additional authors include Lihyun Yun, also from UC Davis; Kate Keenan, University of Chicago, and Alison E. Hipwell and Erica E. Forbes, both from the University of Pittsburgh.

Financing: The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

About Rumination and Social Behavior Research News

author: Karen Nikos
source: University of California at Davis
communication: Karen Nikos – University of California, Davis
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original search: Open access.
“Addicted to an Idea: Associations between Rumination and Neural Responses to Social Rejection in Adolescent Girls” by Amanda Goyer et al. Developmental cognitive neuroscience


a summary

Hooked on an idea: Associations between rumination and neural responses to social rejection in adolescent girls

Rumination is an important risk factor for psychopathology in adolescent girls and is associated with increased and prolonged physiological arousal following social rejection.

However, no study has examined how rumination is associated with neural responses to social rejection in adolescent girls. Therefore, the current study aimed to address this gap.

Adolescent girls (n = 116; ages 16.95–19.09) reported a tendency to ruminate and completed an fMRI social rating task in which they received fictitious feedback (approval and rejection) from peers who liked or disliked them.

Rejection-related neural activity and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) connectivity were decreased when ruminating, controlling for rejection sensitivity and depressive symptoms.

Rumination has been associated with distinct neural responses following rejection from likable peers, including increased neural activity in the precuneus, inferior parietal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and supplementary motor area (SMA) and decreased sgACC connectivity with multiple regions including the medial prefrontal cortex. , precuneus, and ventrolateral. Frontal cortex.

Precuneus and SMA activity mediate the effect of rumination on slower response time to report emotional state after receiving rejection from likable peers. These findings provide evidence for distinct cognitive processes (e.g., reasoning, conflict processing, and memory encoding) after receiving rejection in girls with high levels of rumination.

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