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Exploring the cognitive load of negative thinking: A novel dual-task experiment

Authors
Publisher
Elsevier Ltd
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.05.003
Keywords
  • Memory
  • Future Thinking
  • Time Estimation
  • Sex Difference
  • Cognitive Load
Disciplines
  • Literature

Abstract

Abstract Background and Objectives Females are more likely to engage in the preoccupation of past negative experiences than males, which might contribute to their greater tendency toward depression. However, there is limited understanding regarding the cognitive basis for the negative autobiographical information processing of females. In the present study, we assessed the cognitive resources required for negative thinking, by using a novel dual-task paradigm that combined think-aloud and time-estimation tasks. Methods Fifty-three Japanese undergraduate students were asked to think aloud about personal past or future emotional episodes for a particular duration. In addition, they were asked to estimate the duration of their speech. Their estimates were compared to the actual time taken, and the errors were used as indices of cognitive burden during the speech task. Results As compared to males, females exhibited greater judgment errors, particularly when thinking about their past negative experiences. This suggests that females allocate more attentional resources toward thinking about the past. Limitations Participants could rehearse the task during the time reproduction phase, and the quality of the rehearsal and their memory capacity might have influenced the accuracy of their duration judgment. Conclusions Females tend to allocate more attentional resources than males to thinking about past negative episodes, which in turn might be associated with reduced availability of resources for central cognitive control processes such as inhibition of and switching away from processing of negative autobiographical information.

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