Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Rejection sensitivity, the disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection, has been linked to internalizing symptoms, such as depression and social anxiety, from childhood through young adulthood. This cognitive-affective processing disposition is believed to develop from early attachment and rejection experiences (Downey & Feldman, 1996), later influencing how rejection sensitive individuals perceive and respond to other people’s behavior. Highly rejection sensitive individuals have a tendency to engage in behaviors, such as increased hostility or excessive reassurance seeking, that give rise to problems in close relationships. These interpersonal difficulties are likely to result in higher levels of stress, potentially contributing to greater severity of social anxiety symptoms.
The current study in progress examines the mediating role of perceived stress in the relationship between rejection sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms. College student participants (N = 126, Mage = 19 years, 72% female) completed a battery of self-report measures, including the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ; Downey & Feldman, 1996), the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SAS-A; La Greca & Lopez, 1998), and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; Cohen & Williamson, 1988). Individuals high in rejection sensitivity were expected to experience high social anxiety symptoms, partially due to high levels of stress.
As hypothesized, rejection sensitivity was positively related to perceived stress and social anxiety (Table 1). A process analysis using bootstrapping estimation (5000 samples; Hayes, 2013) was conducted to assess the meditational role of perceived stress in the relationship between rejection sensitivity and social anxiety. The overall model was significant [R2 = .39, F (2, 123) = 39.11, p < .001], showing that rejection sensitivity and perceived stress together accounted for 39% of the variance in social anxiety symptoms. Increased rejection sensitivity led to increased perceived stress (b = .92, p < .001) and increased perceived stress led to increased social anxiety symptom severity (b = .67, p b = 1.77, p R2 = 28.17), and the direct effect was also significant and positive (b = 1.15, p b = .61, 95% BCa CI [.33, .99]. The indirect effect accounted for over 18% of the variance, b = .18, 95% BCa CI [.10, .29].
Results suggest that late-adolescents high in rejection sensitivity experience higher levels of stress and social anxiety. Perceived stress partially mediated the association between rejection sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms. Findings are consistent with the rejection sensitivity model, as individuals who are rejection sensitive often behave in ways that create interpersonal problems, likely increasing stress. This increase in stress may contribute to social anxiety symptom severity, though alternative pathways are also possible. Interventions targeting stress perception or prevention strategies for stress generation may benefit rejection sensitive individuals.