Friendships in U.S. and Ecuadorian Students (FUSES)

Project Description:

College students undergo important changes in their social environment, including leaving behind family and friends to forge new relationships. A wealth of past research focuses on the positive role of self-disclosure in friendships and social support in protecting against emotional distress. However, recent attention has focused on social processes that might involve adjustment trade-offs. Co-rumination is a social process characterized by excessive discussion of problems with a friend, including mutual encouragement of problem-focused talk, rehashing details of problems and dwelling on negative feelings about the problem (Rose, 2002). This construct, is similar to rumination, a solitary, cognitive process which has been associated with anxiety and depression, but is social in nature and, like self-disclosure, may enhance feelings of closeness and support within friendships. In fact, past research conducted with children and adolescents has shown that while co-rumination is associated with positive friendship quality, it is also related to depression and anxiety (Rose et al., 2007). These studies show clear gender differences in co-rumination (with girls co-ruminating more) and suggest that this construct partially explains gender differences in levels of anxiety and depression (with girls showing higher levels of anxiety and depression) and predicts increased depression and anxiety over time for girls, but not for boys.

From a scientific standpoint, the current study will advance relationship science forward in the following ways:

• replicating prior work on a new construct (i.e., co-rumination) which has received little research attention (i.e., no published studies beyond Rose's lab)

• broadening this inquiry to include culturally-diverse individuals promises to enhance our understanding of the ways in which interpersonal processes are associated with adjustment

• extending this work into late adolescence/early adulthood may shed light on whether these relationships may change across development

• examining other aspects of friendships (e.g., conflict) is also important, given that the tendency to co-ruminate may decrease social network size and/or create imbalances in temptations to disclose highly personal information within the dyad

• looking at attributions following the problem-focused discussion will provide an indirect test of whether self-blame and negative thinking may partially explain the association between co-rumination and emotional distress

From a practical standpoint, findings may have implications for promoting well-being among young women. Identification and referral for mental health services is imbalanced in favor of noticing and treating acting-out behavior problems (e.g., aggression, substance abuse, noncompliance) and overlooking internalizing problems, like anxiety and depression.  The transition to college brings heightened stress (e.g., academic, financial, social) and, often the need to establish a new social support network.  Worry and concern about those at risk for depression or anxiety has typically focused on the socially isolated and withdrawn student. Thus, women in friendships characterized by high levels of co-rumination may go undetected by themselves, friends, resident advisors, faculty or others who may feel that with a supportive relationship all is well, leaving them  to engage in a social process that may strengthen a relationship but leave them vulnerable to negative emotional state.

Please see poster handouts for more information.

List of Measures