In two experiments, dysphoric and nondysphoric students first concentrated on either self-focused or other-focused phrases and then performed an ostensibly unrelated task involving the interpretation of homographs with both personal and impersonal meanings. In Experiment 1, they constructed sentences for the homographs; dysphoric students' sentences were more emotionally negative (although not more personal) in the self-focused condition than in the other-focused condition. In Experiment 2, they freely associated to the homographs, and the percentage of personal meanings reflected by the associations revealed an effect of self versus other focus that depended on mood group. Following free associations, they attempted to recall the homographs. Dysphoric students (but not nondysphoric students) recalled a greater percentage of personally interpreted homographs if they had focused on self than if they had focused on other matters. In general, these results suggest that ruminative or self-focused thinking by people in depressed moods transfers to novel ambiguous situations, encouraging more negative interpretations and better recall of personal interpretations.
Hertel, P.T., & El-Messidi, L. (2006). Am I blue? Depressed mood and the consequences of self focus for the interpretation and recall of ambiguous words. Behavior Therapy, 37(3), 259-268. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2006.01.003