Korean Clinical Psychology Association
[ Original Article ]
Korean Journal of Clinical Psychology - Vol. 40, No. 2, pp.167-175
ISSN: 1229-0335 (Print) 2733-4538 (Online)
Print publication date 30 May 2021
Received 29 Mar 2021 Revised 06 May 2021 Accepted 07 May 2021
DOI: https://doi.org/10.15842/kjcp.2021.40.2.005

Mediating Effects of Attentional Control in the Relationship Between Neuroticism and Repetitive Negative Thinking

Eun-Jung Cha ; Myoug-Ho Hyun
Department of Psychology, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea

Correspondence to: Myoung-Ho Hyun, Department of Psychology, Chung-Ang University, 84 Heukseok-ro, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, Korea; E-mail: hyunmh@cau.ac.kr

© 2021 Korean Clinical Psychology Association


Depression and anxiety symptoms frequently co-occur. Research suggests that a common shared symptom — repetitive negative thinking (RNT) — is a vulnerability factor that develops and prolongs symptoms of affective disorders. A dispositional factor that increases RNT is neuroticism. The mental noise hypothesis of neuroticism suggests that its volatile and reactive nature causes attentional control deficits. As theories of RNT, specifically regarding rumination and worry, indicate such deficits as underlying causes, it is hypothesized that the deficits may mediate the relationship between neuroticism and RNT. This study investigated whether attentional focusing and shifting mediates the relationship between neuroticism and RNT (worry and rumination). Results showed mediational effects of focusing on rumination, while the results on worry were not significant. Neuroticism has been discussed as a temperamental risk factor that increases vulnerability to psychopathology. Future research should employ longitudinal designs and behavioral measures to overcome this study’s limitations.


neuroticism, attentional control, repetitive negative thinking, worry, rumination


This research was supported by the Chung-Ang University Research Scholarship Grants in 2019.

Author contributions statement

EJC, graduate student and research assistant at Chung-Ang University, conceptualized the research, collected and analyzed the data, and wrote the original draft of the manuscript. MHH, professor at Chung-Ang University, served as the principal investigator of the research grant, supervised the research process, and reviewed and edited the writing. All authors provided critical feedback, participated in revision of the manuscript, and approved the final submission.


  • Armstrong, T., Zald, D. H., & Olatunji, B. O. (2011). Attentional control in OCD and GAD: Specificity and associations with core cognitive symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49, 756- 762. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2011.08.003 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2011.08.003]
  • Borkovec, T. D., & Newman, M. G. (1998). Worry and generalized anxiety disorder. Comprehensive Clinical Psychology, 6, 439-459. [https://doi.org/10.1016/B0080-4270(73)00201-7]
  • Bredemeier, K., Berenbaum, H., Most, S. B., & Simons, D. J. (2011). Links between neuroticism, emotional distress, and disengaging attention: Evidence from a single-target RSVP task. Cognition &Emotion, 25, 1510-1519. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2010.549460 [https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2010.549460]
  • Cohen, N., Daches, S., Mor, N., & Henik, A. (2014). Inhibition of negative content—a shared process in rumination and reappraisal. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 622. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00622 [https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00622]
  • Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1980). Influence of extraversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: Happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 668-678. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.38.4.668 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.38.4.668]
  • Costa Jr, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1987). Neuroticism, somatic complaints, and disease: Is the bark worse than the bite? Journal of Personality, 55, 299-316. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00438.x [https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00438.x]
  • De Bruin, G. O., Rassin, E., & Muris, P. (2007). The prediction of worry in non-clinical individuals: The role of intolerance of uncertainty, meta-worry, and neuroticism. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29, 93-100. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-006-9029-6 [https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-006-9029-6]
  • Derryberry, D., & Reed, M. A. (2002). Anxiety-related attentional biases and their regulation by attentional control. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 225-236. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.111.2.225 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.111.2.225]
  • Ehring, T., & Watkins, E. R. (2008). Repetitive Negative Thinking as a Transdiagnostic Process. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 1, 192-205. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1521/ijct.2008.1.3.192 [https://doi.org/10.1521/ijct.2008.1.3.192]
  • Essau, C. A. (2003). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders in adolescents. Depression and Anxiety, 18, 1-6. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/da.10107 [https://doi.org/10.1002/da.10107]
  • Flehmig, H. C., Steinborn, M., Langner, R., & Westhoff, K. (2007). Neuroticism and the mental noise hypothesis: Relationships to lapses of attention and slips of action in everyday life. Psychology Science, 49, 343-360.
  • Fox, E., Dutton, K., Yates, A., Georgiou, G. A., & Mouchlianitis, E. (2015). Attentional control and suppressing negative thought intrusions in pathological worry. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 593-606. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702615575878 [https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702615575878]
  • Fritz, M. S., & MacKinnon, D. P. (2007). Required sample size to detect the mediated effect. Psychological Science, 18, 233-239. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01882.x [https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01882.x]
  • Goldberg, L. R., Johnson, J. A., Eber, H. W., Hogan, R., Ashton, M. C., Cloninger, C. R., & Gough, H. G. (2006). The international personality item pool and the future of public-domain personality measures. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 84-96. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2005.08.007 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2005.08.007]
  • Hayes, A. F. (2018). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis (2nd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Hirsch, C. R., & Mathews, A. (2012). A cognitive model of pathological worry. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50, 636-646. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2012.06.007 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2012.06.007]
  • Jahng, S. (2018). Development and validation of the Korean version of IPIP-NEO-300 scale and the brief version of IPIP-NEO scale. [Unpublished Manuscript]. Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea.
  • Johnson, J. A. (2014). Measuring thirty facets of the Five Factor Model with a 120-item public domain inventory: Development of the IPIP-NEO-120. Journal of Research in Personality, 51, 78- 89. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2014.05.003 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2014.05.003]
  • Judah, M. R., Grant, D. M., Mills, A. C., & Lechner, W. V. (2014). Factor structure and validation of the attentional control scale. Cognition & Emotion, 28, 433-451. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2013.835254 [https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2013.835254]
  • Kane, L., & Ashbaugh, A. R. (2017). Simple and parallel mediation: A tutorial exploring anxiety sensitivity, sensation seeking, and gender. The Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 13, 148-165. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.20982/tqmp.13.3.p148 [https://doi.org/10.20982/tqmp.13.3.p148]
  • Kim, J. W., & Min, B. B. (1998). Intolerance of uncertainty and problem orientation in worry. Korean Psychological Association Academic Conference Archives, 1998, 83-92.
  • Kim, S. J., Kim, J. H., & Youn, S. C. (2010). Validation of the Korean- Ruminative Response Scale(K-RRS). Korean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 29, 1-19. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.15842/kjcp.2010.29.1.001 [https://doi.org/10.15842/kjcp.2010.29.1.001]
  • Kocovski, N. L., Endler, N. S., Rector, N. A., & Flett, G. L. (2005). Ruminative coping and post-event processing in social anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 971-984. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2004.06.015 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2004.06.015]
  • Lamers, F., Van Oppen, P., Comijs, H. C., Smit, J. H., Spinhoven, P., Van Balkom, A. J. L. M., Nolen, W. A., Zitman, F. G., Beekman, A. T. F., & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2011). Comorbidity patterns of anxiety and depressive disorders in a large cohort study. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72, 341-348. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.10m06176blu [https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.10m06176blu]
  • McEvoy, P. M., Watson, H., Watkins, E. R., & Nathan, P. (2013). The relationship between worry, rumination, and comorbidity: Evidence for repetitive negative thinking as a transdiagnostic construct. Journal of Affective Disorders, 151, 313-320. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.014 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.014]
  • Meyer, T. J., Miller, M. L., Metzger, R. L., & Borkovec, T. D. (1990). Development and validation of the penn state worry questionnaire. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28, 487-495. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(90)90135-6 [https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(90)90135-6]
  • Mills, A. C., Grant, D. M., Judah, M. R., White, E. J., Taylor, D. L., & Frosio, K. E. (2016). Trait attentional control influences the relationship between repetitive negative thinking and psychopathology symptoms. Psychiatry Research, 238, 277-283. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.02.055 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.02.055]
  • Muris, P., Roelofs, J., Rassin, E., Franken, I., & Mayer, B. (2005). Mediating effects of rumination and worry on the links between neuroticism, anxiety and depression. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 1105-1111. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2005.04.005 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2005.04.005]
  • Neupert, S. D., Mroczek, D. K., & Spiro, A. (2008). Neuroticism moderates the daily relation between stressors and memory failures. Psychology and Aging, 23, 287-296. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7974.23.2.287 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7974.23.2.287]
  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Morrow, J. (1991). A prospective study of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster: The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 115-121. Retrieved from https://doi. org/10.1037/0022-3514.61.1.115 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.61.1.115]
  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 400- 424. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x [https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x]
  • Okbay, A., Baselmans, B. M., De Neve, J. E., Turley, P., Nivard, M. G., Fontana, M. A., . . . Rich, S. S. (2016). Genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depressive symptoms, and neuroticism identified through genome-wide analyses. Nature Genetics, 48, 624-633. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/ng.3552 [https://doi.org/10.1038/ng.3552]
  • Penninx, B. W., Nolen, W. A., Lamers, F., Zitman, F. G., Smit, J. H., Spinhoven, P., . . . Beekman, A. T. (2011). Two-year course of depressive and anxiety disorders: results from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Journal of Affective Disorders, 133, 76-85. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.027 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.027]
  • Quigley, L., Wright, C. A., Dobson, K. S., & Sears, C. R. (2017). Measuring attentional control ability or beliefs? Evaluation of the factor structure and convergent validity of the attentional control scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 39, 742-754. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-017-9617-7 [https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-017-9617-7]
  • Rapee, R. M., Kennedy, S. J., Ingram, M., Edwards, S. L., & Sweeney, L. (2010). Altering the trajectory of anxiety in at-risk young children. American Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 1518-1525. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.09111619 [https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.09111619]
  • Reinholdt-Dunne, M. L., Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. (2013). Attention control: Relationships between self-report and behavioural measures, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cognition & Emotion, 27, 430-440. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2012.715081 [https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2012.715081]
  • Robichaud, M., Dugas, M. J., & Conway, M. (2003). Gender differences in worry and associated cognitive-behavioral variables. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17, 501-516. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/S0887-6185(02)00237-2 [https://doi.org/10.1016/S0887-6185(02)00237-2]
  • Robinson, M. D., & Tamir, M. (2005). Neuroticism as mental noise: A relation between neuroticism and reaction time standard deviations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 107-114. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.89.1.107 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.89.1.107]
  • Ruscio, A. M., Borkovec, T. D., & Ruscio, J. (2001). A taxometric investigation of the latent structure of worry. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 413-422. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.110.3.413 [https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.110.3.413]
  • Segerstrom, S. C., Tsao, J. C., Alden, L. E., & Craske, M. G. (2000). Worry and rumination: Repetitive thought as a concomitant and predictor of negative mood. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 671-688. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005587311498 [https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005587311498]
  • Szabó, M., & Lovibond, P. F. (2002). The cognitive content of naturally occurring worry episodes. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26, 167-177. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1023/A:10145-65602111 [https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1014565602111]
  • Vreeke, L. J., & Muris, P. (2012). Relations between behavioral inhibition, big five personality factors, and anxiety disorder symptoms in non-clinical and clinically anxious children. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 43, 884-894. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-012-0302-5 [https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-012-0302-5]
  • Yoon, S. A., Kim, H. T., & Choi, J. S. (2007). Reliability and Validity of an Attentional Control Questionnaire. The Korean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 26, 185-199. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.15842/kjcp.2007.26.1.011 [https://doi.org/10.15842/kjcp.2007.26.1.011]
  • Zainal, N. H., & Newman, M. G. (2018). Executive function and other cognitive deficits are distal risk factors of generalized anxiety disorder 9 years later. Psychological Medicine, 48, 20-45. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717003579 [https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717003579]