Saturday, July 21, 2007

Does 'problem talk' depress girls?

Broadsheet: By Carol Lloyd

We're told to let our emotions out, intead of bottling them up. But does talking about our problems make us feel better or worse? That depends on who the 'us' is, according to a new study from the University of Missouri at Columbia. The study published in this month's Developmental Psychology examined 'co-rumination,' which was defined as 'excessively discussing problems ... characterized by mutual encouragement of problem talk, rehashing problems, speculating about problems, and dwelling on negative affect.'

Smell like preteen spirit? No doubt, but ironically, this strategy for building close relationships and gaining moral support seems to have some unintended effects. In general, interpersonal discussions led to 'high-quality' friendships for both sexes, but for girls, long-term 'co-rumination' was predictive of 'anxiety and depressive symptoms.' In other words, airing all that dark 'self-talk' may make girls feel closer, but it doesn't necessarily cheer them up. It may make them feel worse. The study, which looked at 813 kids age 8-15, found that boys reported no similarly adverse effects. ...The study didn't address why girls display a more negative reaction to this sort of bonding than boys, but the researchers wonder if girls' tendency to blame themselves for perceived failures has something to do with it. ...

Despite the study's obvious limitations in scope and depth, however, it gets at a central conundrum of our assumptions about communication and the therapeutic industry -- be it the 12-step movement or seven years in psychoanalysis. As another researcher told the Los Angeles Times, these findings support other studies that have found that support groups can intensify eating disorders and delinquency. "You might think having social support is conducive to mental health," Carol Dweck, of Stanford University, told the L.A. Times. "But getting people with issues together doesn't always make things better."

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