In “Clicking Away At Co-Rumination,” Ani Keshishian, Melanie Watkins, and Michael Otto in conjunction with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University examine the communication concept of co-rumination within the context of technology, specifically focusing on a study involving college students’ reliance on cellphones for co-rumination. Co-rumination occurs when individuals discuss problems with friends, typically dwelling on the negative aspects and not focusing on potential solutions. This phenomenon has a dual effect: individuals often develop increased levels of anxiety and/or depression, while experiencing positive friendship quality.
The rise of the smart phone has inherently altered how individuals engage in interpersonal communication and technology is now one of the primary conduits for social interaction. The authors of this article hypothesized that due to the frequent use of cellphones by young adults and their tendency towards co-rumination, previously studied co-rumination effects would be applicable via this mode as well. Additionally, they theorized that findings would be more significant across a younger community sample than within older populations.
Participants in this study were recruited from college psychology courses, as well as through online postings within the community. There were 85 participants total, with the majority identifying as female (83.5%) and Caucasian (60%) (Keshishian, 2016, p. 474). The mean age for college students was 19.4 years, while significantly higher for the community sample at 26.6 years. Each individual completed the ‘co-rumination questionnaire,’ which attempted to measure participants’ tendencies towards co-rumination with same-sex friends through a self-report scale containing 27 items. Individuals also indicated their methods for communicating with friends through a social networking survey and reported their overall friendship quality with a network of relationship inventory, while their mood states were examined through “state-trait anxiety inventory-state” and with the “center for epidemiologic studies depression” (p. 474). Through a data analysis, the authors found that the overwhelming majority of participants texted with friends (96.5%), communicated via a social networking platform (91.8%), or spoke on the telephone with them (80%) (Keshishian, 2016, p. 475). The study revealed an association between co-rumination via technology and both positive friendship quality and increased anxiety, but indicated no correlation to depression. Positive friendship quality was associated for both samples with telephone communication and related to text communication within the college student sample. There was no correlation with this factor and communication on social media. Additionally, co-rumination experienced via texting led to much lower levels of anxiety than face-to-face co-rumination. The authors hypothesized that this was due to the absence of nonverbal communication factors.
Ultimately, the study concluded that co-rumination should be examined within the context of various modalities of communication, and that the modalities of mobile texting and, more widely, telephone use mirrored traditional findings in studies of face-to-face co-rumination.
Comments and Questions for Inquiry
1. I found this article to be especially interesting after reflecting on Jose van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity. If social media is changing our social norms, surely it is altering how we perceive and participate in our social relationships. Although this is only one aspect of communication examined within this study, smart phones have become the primary means for accessing social media. Therefore, I think it is important to study the effects of this evolving communication technology in conjunction with the effects of social media.
2. Does the increasing reliance on social media for communication purposes and prevalence of mobile phone use ultimately cause us psychologically harm? If co-rumination often leads to increased levels of anxiety and social media and mobile phones allow us to participate more frequently in co-rumination, surely we are experiencing the detriments.
3. Additionally, this study did not report a correlation between positive friendship quality and social networking-based co-rumination, indicating that perhaps participating in co-rumination through these platforms might negatively affect one’s friendships. This reveals the potential for underlying negative implications of social media use on interpersonal relationships.
4. How can individuals become more mindful of their tendencies towards co-rumination? Perhaps if we were more aware of the effects we might be able engage in certain behaviors to successfully combat them.
5. The process of co-rumination is difficult to examine because it carries with it both positive and negative associations. How might we reconcile the opposing concepts of positive friendship quality and negative mood states related to this interpersonal communication tendency?
Keshishian, A. C., Watkins, M. A., & Otto, M. W. (2016). “Clicking away at co-rumination: Co-
rumination correlates across different modalities of communication.” Cognitive Behaviour
Therapy, 45 (6), 473-478.