Real-World Rumination Predicts Medial Prefrontal Neural Response to Loss in Adolescents

Laura Murray, PhD

McLean Hospital

Scientific Abstract

Background: Rumination – negative, self-referential thought – is linked to greater neural processing of loss in depressed youth (Webb et al., 2017). Rumination is also linked to greater mPFC-insula functional connectivity, key regions linked to self-referential processing and salience processing (Kaiser et al., 2016). Yet it is unclear whether neural response in the laboratory predicts rumination in youths’ daily lives. We examined the relations between neural response to loss and rumination measured by self-report and ecological momentary assessment (EMA). We hypothesized that rumination would be linked to greater mPFC and insula activity to monetary loss.

Methods: 77 youth with a range of depressive symptoms completed an fMRI task involving monetary rewards and losses, and self-reports of trait rumination and depressive symptoms. Youth also completed EMA smartphone surveys 2-3 times/day for 5 days assessing current rumination. Mean EMA rumination was calculated across the EMA period. Multiple regression analyses of rumination predicting neural response to Loss>Win focused on the mPFC and insula regions of interest, included age, sex, and scanner as covariates, and corrected for multiple comparisons.

Results: Self-report rumination was moderately correlated with EMA rumination (r =.60, p<.001), but was not associated with neural response to loss. EMA rumination was linked to greater mPFC activity to Loss>Win (t=5.32, k=53, x=4, y=52, z=38). Examining each feedback condition separately revealed that EMA rumination was linked to greater mPFC activity to Loss>Neutral but not Win<Neutral. Moreover, associations between EMA rumination and mPFC response to loss remained significant when controlling for depressive symptoms.

Conclusion: Real-world rumination was moderately associated with traditional self-reported trait rumination. Only EMA rumination predicted greater mPFC activity to loss. Given the extensive literature linking mPFC activity to self-referential processing (Gusnard et al., 2001), our findings may indicate that greater activation of brain regions involved in self-referential thought in response to negative outcomes may facilitate rumination in daily life.

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Laura Murray, PhD, Hannah R. Lawrence, PhD, Brianna Pastro, BA, Emma G. Balkind, BA, Elana Israel, BA, Nathaniel Lovell-Smith, BA, Erika E. Forbes, PhD, Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, Christian A. Webb, PhD