Causal uncertainty is the degree to which an individual believes they understand why social events occur. When people feel causally uncertain, they become motivated to reduce their uncertainty, and past research has shown that individuals high in causal uncertainty (i.e. frequently feel uncertain about the causality of social events) will engage in more thoughtful and effortful social information processing and other behaviors which they believe will reduce their causal uncertainty. However, causal uncertainty has also been found to be associated with negative affect and depressive symptomatology. This seems paradoxical; despite individuals being motivated to reduce their uncertainty and the accompanying negative affect, research has shown that their subsequent behavior does not improve their causal judgmental accuracy and so does not lead to reduced negative affect. These individuals do not seem to learn that these behaviors are not helpful in reducing their uncertainty, so they continue to engage in them whenever they feel uncertain.
Other research has shown that individuals engage in rumination when they encounter situations that make them feel uncertain. It has been suggested that rumination moderates the relationship between intolerance of uncertainty and depressive symptomatology. However, research looking specifically at causal uncertainty and rumination, and rumination’s potential role in causal uncertainty’s relationship with depressive symptomatology and negative affect, has yet to be completed. The purpose of the present study is to extend research on causal uncertainty and rumination, specifically examining if rumination is the mechanism behind the relationship between causal uncertainty and negative affect.
Participants were recruited using the Amazon recruiting platform Mechanical Turk. All participants completed scales designed to assess causal uncertainty, causal importance, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and their current mood. Participants then read four scenarios designed to induce causal uncertainty and were asked to list possible causes of each scenario. They were split into three conditions which determined how long they were able to think about the scenarios: unlimited time, 3 minutes, or 5 minutes. Then their mood was assessed again, and they completed a scale designed to assess rumination.
Jessica Freeman, ’17