Exploring Working Memory, Self-Criticism, and Rumination as Factors Related to Self-Harm

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The prevalence of self-harm and the relative emotional influences are well understood, but certain cognitive factors such as working memory, rumination, and self-criticism are not fully explored. The aim of the current study is to examine specific aspects of cognition to explore their influence on self-harming behaviors. Participants included 101 undergraduates from a British University. Factors were measured using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire, Ruminative Response Scale, and the Automated Working Memory Assessment. Findings indicated a greater incidence of self-harming behaviors among those who demonstrated higher depressive symptoms, but depression scores were not significantly related to self-harm. Additionally, a binary logistic regression indicated that self-criticism was associated with the presence of self-harming behavior, and a Classification and Regression Trees found that the single strongest predictor of self-harming behavior was a belief that love needs to be continually earned from others. Incorporating treatments that reduce self-criticism, such as improving self-compassion with Compassionate Mind Training, may address underlying mechanisms that trigger self-harm behavior.