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Susan Nolen-Hoeksema



Training Location(s):

PhD, University of Pennsylvania, (1986)

MA, University of Pennsylvania, (1984)

BA, Yale University, (1982)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Yale University, (2004-2013)

University of Michigan, (1995-2004)

Stanford University, (1986-1995)

Media Links:



Career Focus: Rumination; sex differences in depression; women’s mental health; children’s mental health; explanatory styles.

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema was born May 22nd 1959 in Springfield Illinois, the eldest of three children. A trailblazer in the field of clinical psychology, her groundbreaking research on rumination as a cognitive style transformed the study of sex differences in depression. An internationally renowned psychologist, teacher and author, Nolen-Hoeksema was at the height of an incredible career when she passed away unexpectedly from complications related to heart surgery.


Nolen-Hoeksema’s scholarly trajectory began at Yale University where she pursued her BA in psychology. A brilliant student, she excelled academically under the mentorship of respected psychologist and psychometrician, Robert Sternberg. In 1982, she earned her Bachelor of Arts and graduated summa cum laude. She was also named Scholar of Merit by Branford College, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most widely recognized academic honor society in the United States. The same year, in addition to earning her degree, she married Richard Hoeksema, a fellow Yale student.  


Shortly after, her academic journey continued at the University of Pennsylvania where she entered the Clinical Psychology program. Psychologist Martin Seligman, known for co-developing the theory of learned helplessness, became one of her most influential mentors during her doctoral training. Under his counsel, Nolen-Hoeksema’s own interest in depression started to take form. In collaboration with Seligman and Joan Girgus, she published her first research article, “Learned helplessness in children: A longitudinal study of depression, achievement and explanatory style. This study, conducted over a one-year period, tested the correlations among maladaptive explanatory styles, levels of depression, academic success and helpless behaviours.  In1986, she earned her PhD and was immediately offered a position as an Assistant Professor at Stanford University.


Nolen-Hoeksema continued to carve her own path in clinical psychology. In 1987, she published a breakthrough article that became the foundation of her academic career: “Sex differences in unipolar depression: Evidence and theory.” The paper offered an explanation for the disproportionate number of unipolar depression cases reported among women. According to her research, women were more likely than men to ruminate on the symptoms and causes of their depression rather than think of possible solutions to alleviate depressed states. The lower reported incidence of depression among men was due to their increased likelihood to engage in distracting behaviours, which helped to ease their depression. The report marked the beginning of a plethora of empirical studies and articles that focused on sex differences in depression and rumination among adolescents and adults. In 1991, Nolen-Hoeksema, Girgus, and Seligman came together again to publish “Sex differences in depression and explanatory style in children” in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.


Nolen-Hoeksema was also a dedicated teacher and mentor. In recognition of the positive impact that she had on her students at Stanford, she was given the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1989 and the Peter and Helen Bing Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1993. During the mid to late nineties, Nolen-Hoeksema’s career began to accelerate. After 11 years at Stanford University, she transitioned to the University of Michigan’s Psychology Department where she initially began her tenure as an Associate Professor and was later promoted to Full Professor. From 1995-1999, she served as a member of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)‘s Review Group on Child/Adolescent Development Risk and Prevention and simultaneously directed the University of Michigan’s NIMH-funded Gender and Mental Health Training Program for pre-doctoral students and postdoctoral professionals between 1997 and 2003.


In addition to her notable contributions to the academic community, Nolen-Hoeksema shared her research with the general public through various outlets. Her expertise on maladaptive thinking patterns and emotion regulation has been featured in numerous television, radio, and print interviews. She also co-authored multiple introductory and abnormal psychology textbooks used by leading colleges around the United States. In 2003 she published the renowned self-help guide, Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. The book broke down overthinking, discussed the undesirable effects of overanalyzing negative feelings, experiences and relationships, and provided concrete strategies to combat rumination.


In 2004, Nolen-Hoeksema moved to Yale University as a professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Psychology Department. The year prior, she was also appointed editor of the influential Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. Despite these important responsibilities, she was still able to lead the Yale Depression and Cognition Program. Along with several graduate students, Nolen-Hoeksema explored the relationship between several cognitive processes and depression. Current work by the group focused on four major research projects; the development and prevention of depression cognition, the nature of cognition in depression, gender differences in depressive cognition, and the health consequences of depressive cognition. Most recently, the program discovered an association between rumination tendencies and maladaptive behaviours and mental health issues outside of depression, such as alcohol abuse, eating disorders and self-injury.


Nolen-Hoeksema contributed to the field of clinical psychology in multiple pioneering ways. She assumed a number of professorships and leadership roles, served on several editorial boards, and authored over 100 research papers and numerous books/book chapters during her relatively short career. Her dedication to gender issues in mental health has been commemorated with countless awards and distinctions, including APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology Leadership Award and NIMH’s Research Career Award. In addition to her accomplishments as a globally recognized researcher, Nolen-Hoeksema was a loving mother, wife, and daughter who always had time for her family and the students she mentored.   


by Jeahlisa Bridgeman (2014)


To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


By Susan Nolen-Hoeksema


Bohon, C., Stice, E., Burton, E., Fudell, M., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S.  (2008). A prospective test of cognitive vulnerability models of depression with adolescent girls.  Behavior Therapy, 39, 79-90.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Girgus, J. S., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1986). Learned helplessness in children: A longitudinal study of depression, explanatory style and academic achievement.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 435-442.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1987).  Sex differences in unipolar depression: Evidence and theory.  Psychological Bulletin, 101, 259-282.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Girgus, J. S., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Sex differences in depression and explanatory style in children. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20, 231-243.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S.  (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504-511.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S.  (2003).  Women who think too much:  How to break free of overthinking and reclaim your life.  New York:  Holt. 


Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Stice, E., Wade, E., & Bohon, C.  (2007). Reciprocal relations between rumination and bulimic, substance abuse, and depressive symptoms in adolescent females.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 198-207.


About Susan Nolen-Hoeksema


Carey, B. (2013, January 15). Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, psychologist, dies at 53. The New York Times, New York Edition, p. B16.


Kaslow, N. J., Hilt, L., Wisco, B. E., Brownell, K. D. (2013). Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (1959-2013). American Psychologist, 68, 404.