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Allison Russo, Alison A. Papadakis, Ph.D., Matthew W. Kirkhart, Ph.D., Martin F. Sherman, Ph.D.

The Gender Difference in Depression: Personality and Rumination as Mediators

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A wide body of literature indicates that the lifetime prevalence of clinical depression in women is approximately twice that in men (Kessler, McGonagle, Swartz, Blazer, & Nelson, 1993; Lucht et al., 2003; Weismann & Klerman, 1977). Previous research demonstrates that the personality factor of neuroticism (e.g., Goodwin & Gotlib, 2004) and a ruminative coping style (e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema, Larson, & Grayson, 1999) each separately contribute to the gender difference in depression. Additionally, a nascent literature has combined these two risk factors in a larger model of the gender difference in depression (e.g., Roberts, Gilboa, & Gotlib, 1998), with rumination conceptualized as a cognitive outgrowth of neuroticism. However, neuroticism is also associated with various psychopathologies in addition to depression (e.g., Bienvenu et al., 2004; Saulsman & Page, 2004). Therefore, in order to better understand the risk factors that contribute specifically to the gender difference in depression, it is important to consider other personality characteristics that are related to depression and also vary by gender. Notably, there is preliminary evidence that openness to feelings, a facet of the broader personality factor of openness to experience, is elevated in women (Costa, Terraciano, & McCrae, 2001) and in clinically depressed individuals (Bienvenu et al., 2004), suggesting that it may play a role in the gender difference in depression. Furthermore, it seems conceptually reasonable that neuroticism (i.e., a vulnerability to negative affective states) combined with openness to feelings (i.e., a propensity to experience emotions fully) could engender the passive, repetitive focus on distress that characterizes rumination.

The current study examined a hypothesized mediational model in which personality traits (neuroticism, openness to feelings, and their interaction) and depressive rumination sequentially mediate the association between gender and depression. The model was tested once for each of three operationalizations of rumination (overall rumination and its subcomponents of brooding and reflection). Participants were 180 undergraduates (79 men and 101 women) at a medium-sized, Catholic liberal arts college in the mid-Atlantic United States. Self-report, well-validated and reliable questionnaires were used to obtain data for neuroticism, openness to feelings, rumination, and depression. The study utilized a cross-sectional research design, and structural equation modeling was used to assess the fit of the data to the proposed model. Results indicate that neuroticism and each operationalization of rumination sequentially mediate the association between gender and depression. There was no support for the prediction that openness to feelings or the interaction of neuroticism and openness to feelings mediate the association between gender and depression. Additionally, each operationalization of rumination was positively associated with concurrent depression. However, results suggest that neuroticism is more strongly associated with brooding and overall rumination than reflection and that the effect of neuroticism on depression occurs more through brooding and overall rumination than reflection. Findings suggest that clinical intervention and prevention efforts to reduce brooding and overall rumination may be especially effective in reducing and preventing depression, particularly for women, who appear to be more susceptible to depression than men at least partially due to higher levels of neuroticism and rumination.

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