American Psychological Foundation

How harmful is ruminating on stressful thoughts and situations? With the help of the $5,000 APF/COGDOP Harry and Miriam Levinson Scholarship, Peggy Zoccola, of Ohio University, has conducted research to find out.

In 2009, Zoccola investigated whether ruminating on and recalling past stressful events was associated with prolonged cortisol and cardiovascular activation. She also looked at whether these physiological responses are related to the characteristics of the stressor itself and/or subjects' individual differences in rumination.

Her results support the premise that rumination on a previous stressor may extend cortisol stress responses. Her findings also demonstrate that the association between rumination and cortisol depends on stressor characteristics. For example, stressors characterized by social threat — such as being rejected socially — may lead to rumination.

These findings add to the evidence that rumination and recall can prolong a person's physiological stress response and thus may influence health over time.

"This scholarship allowed me to successfully complete my dissertation and PhD in health psychology from the University of California, Irvine," says Zoccola. "Since completing this project — and graduating — I have continued to build upon this program of research as an assistant professor at Ohio University. I am extending my past research in significant ways in ongoing and planned studies."

Zoccola published her findings in the journal Emotion and has presented her work at several conferences. She and her team have received numerous awards, including the University of California, Irvine, Graduate Dean's Dissertation Fellowship, the Ellen Greenberger Excellence in Graduate Research Award and the University of California, Irvine Outstanding Mentor award, which is awarded annually to graduate students who have demonstrated exceptional ability guiding undergraduates in research. She also received a $7,900 grant from the Ohio University Research Committee in 2011.