One consistent finding that has emerged across a diverse array of biomedical and psychological literatures is the role of rigidity (e.g., physiological, behavioral, cognitive) in the pathogenesis of physical and psychological disorders (Brosschot & Thayer, 2004; Thayer & Lane, 2002; Wilson & Murrell, 2004). The list of candidate processes range from decreased heart rate variability to attentional allocation biases to perseverative thinking to behavioral inactivity or inflexible patterns of behavior (Brosschot & Thayer, 2004; Johnsen et al., 2003; Thayer & Lane, 2002; Wilson & Murrell, 2004). One way to account for the emergence of rigidity as a response to threatening or stressful circumstances is in its survival value from an evolutionary perspective. Briefly, in case of threat, the organism capable of narrowing its behavioral repertoire, allocating attention resources to the danger, and exhibiting high autonomic arousal will have a greater likelihood of fighting-, escaping from-, or remaining undetected when confronted with a predator or other danger. Similarly, in the case of depression or reinforcement deprivation, an organism who finds itself in an environment devoid of positive reinforcement (actual or perceived) will likely make a frantic effort to escape and failing to do so, may become behaviorally inactive—possibly in an effort to preserve energy, until the circumstances have changed (Wilson & Murrell, 2004). Thus, although rigidity may be adaptive in some circumstances, rigid response styles are often maladaptive in that behavioral inactivity does nothing to actively change the stimuli presented by threatening environments or environments lacking positive reinforcers. This conceptualization is consistent with a subset of cognitive behavioral approaches both traditional (Ferster, 1973; Lewinsohn, 1974) and contemporary (Borkovec & Sharpless, 2004; Hayes et al., 1999; Jacobson, Martell, & Dimidjian, 2001; Linehan, 1993).

My program of research has focused on studying the phenomenon of rigidity or its converse, flexibility as a way to synthesize two important traditions in the field of psychology: the cognitive-behavioral and emotion-regulation traditions. This work has its roots in the cognitive-behavioral tradition, but actually resides at the boundary that our field has placed separating the study of cognition and emotion. My work on explanatory flexibility, worry, depressive rumination, and decentering focuses not on the content of one’s thinking, but instead on the function that these cognitive styles serve in altering the experience and expression of our emotions. In some cases, cognitive styles such as low explanatory flexibility (rigidity), worry, and depressive rumination serve the immediate function of dampening emotional arousal, but with the long-run cost of preventing us from understanding the important information communicated in our feelings. In contrast, high explanatory flexibility and decentering are associated with an openness to emotional experience and willingness to accept, tolerate and inform one’s life with emotions. Further, although my work is not specific to any particular psychiatric disorder, much of my work to date has focused on two conditions: major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A final focus in my program of research is in empirically investigating the role of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation as a value-added ingredient in our models of psychopathology and evidence-based practices.