Caroline Schlinkert: "Minding the body: The role of rumination and stress in embodied information processing"

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Caroline Schlinkert: "Minding the body: The role of rumination and stress in embodied information processing"

On September 7, 2018 Caroline Schlinkert successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Minding the body: The role of rumination and stress in embodied information processing" at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Promotors
Sander L. Koole, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Co-promotor
Nicola Baumann, University of Trier, Germany


Summary

Virtually everyone ruminates at least once in a while. However, some people ruminate more than others. Prior research has mostly focused on the cognitive aspects of rumination, even though rumination is associated with a wide variety of physical health complaints, hypertension, pain, and chronic fatigue. It thus seems important to ask whether and how rumination shapes the way people process their internal, bodily states. This general question is addressed in my dissertation. Specifically, my dissertation examined how various forms of stress may lead ruminators to become alienated from their own body. The results showed that under mild stress people higher in rumination reported more consciousness towards bodily signals and they were also better at detecting their own heartbeat. However, under low stress conditions, no association emerged between rumination and these two forms of body signal perception. Further, the results revealed that stress, as operationalized here by inhibitory control, disrupted healthy regulation of appetite for food among people higher in rumination. Though, this kind of stress did not disrupt healthy appetite regulation among people lower in rumination. Furthermore, the results showed that more stressful life experiences were associated with a drop in body vitality only among people higher in rumination. People lower in rumination were not affected by the body-vitality draining effects of life stress. Inducing mild stress likewise resulted in lower body vitality experiences among ruminators, compared to non-ruminators. Given that rumination is treated as a personality variable in my dissertation, I also took a step to theoretically compare the two personality theories self-determination theory and personality systems interaction theory. The two theories share the idea that personal growth should be seen as a whole systems process that takes into account mind, body and environmental information. Finally, I propose in my conclusion that the present findings may fit together in a more general psychosomatic model of rumination and coping with stress. According to this model, chronic ruminators cope with stress through psychosomatic processes that alternate between mobilization and minimization. Mobilization coping is characterized by heightened vigilance for internal body signals such as heartbeat and inhibition of bodily needs like hunger. Minimization coping is characterized by fatigue and physiological blunting, along with avoidance behavior such as over-eating and self-injury. Over time, mobilization-minimization alternation increases psychophysiological load, which can ultimately lead to physical degradation and organic disease. In sum, my dissertation sheds new light on the embodied aspects of rumination by suggesting that rumination not only happens between the ears, but is implicated in the health of all bodily functions.


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