This thesis aimed to clarify the inconsistencies in past research concerning the effect of interpersonal rejection on mood by controlling for participants’ baseline mood before examining the relationship between rejection and participants’ subsequent mood. Although it seems intuitive that rejection would have a negative effect on mood, research has been equivocal as to whether rejected individuals report more negative mood (e.g., Buckley, Winkel, & Leary, 2004) or no difference in mood (e.g., Twenge, Catanese, & Baumeister, 2002) compared to non-rejected participants. The second major aim of my thesis was to further explore the interpersonal repercussions of rejection. Such investigations have been limited to date, with past research commonly exploring the effect of rejection on a relatively restricted range of social behaviours. Research suggests that rejection is associated with antisocial behaviour (e.g., Buckley et al., 2004) and aggressive behaviour (e.g., Twenge, Baumeister, Tice, & Stucke, 2001). However, previous research has only explored rejected participants’ behaviour in contexts where they were presented with limited behavioural options. This thesis addressed this gap by examining rejected participants’ communication patterns in a relatively unconstrained social context. I also investigated whether rejection affects individuals’ perceptions of other people.
Three studies (Studies 1, 4, and 6) investigated the effects of interpersonal rejection on individuals’ mood and four studies (Studies 2, 3, 5, and 6) explored the social repercussions of the experience. Participants completed mood and self-esteem measures at the beginning of all experimental sessions before being assigned randomly to one of three false feedback conditions. Participants were told that based on their personality, they would either have a lonely future (rejection), would have fulfilling relationships (belonging), or would be accident prone (misfortune). Next, participants responded to the mood measure for a second time to assess the emotional effects of the rejection manipulation. In Studies 2, 3, and 5 participants then participated in an online chat with a fictional person, where they were free to respond to questions asked of them however they wished, with the (false) expectation that their chat partner was reading their responses. In Studies 3 and 5 the rejection status of participants’ chat partner was also manipulated, allowing me to investigate whether this had an effect on rejected participants’ own communication patterns.
In Studies 4 and 6 participants responded to the mood measure for a third time to assess the effect of rejection on mood after a delay. In the sixth and final study, a different task was used to assess the social implications of rejection. Instead of taking part in the chat task, participants read information about the life and character of Lee, a fictional university student. Lee’s rejection status was also manipulated. After reading the information, participants responded to questions about Lee’s character and the extent to which they liked Lee and would wish to get to know Lee.
Analyses from all relevant studies (Studies 1, 4, and 6) revealed that after controlling for initial negative mood, rejected participants reported significantly higher levels of negative mood and hurt than participants in the control conditions. In Studies 4 and 6, rejected participants also reported feeling significantly less positive and more pained when baseline mood was controlled. Further, in Studies 1, 4, and 6 self-esteem moderated the relationship between rejection and mood, although the pattern of this relationship was different in Study 4 to that obtained in Studies 1 and 6. Importantly, the consistent negative effects of rejection on mood were only yielded when baseline mood was controlled. Finally, although there were some discrepancies in the results of the analyses, Studies 4 and 6 suggested that rejection did not impact participants’ delayed reports of mood.
With respect to the social implications of rejection, across Studies 2, 3, and 5 I observed that rejected participants consistently displayed different patterns of communication during the chat task compared to participants in the two control conditions. Overall, participants in the rejection condition used fewer emotion words, made fewer social references, and were less likely to use self-descriptors. My observations in Studies 3 and 5 indicated that the rejection status of participants’ chat partner did not have an effect on participants’ own communication patterns. Results from Study 6 revealed that rejection did not impact participants’ perceptions of Lee.
Overall, results from this thesis support taking participants’ baseline mood into consideration when examining the emotional effects of rejection. Consistent negative effects of rejection on mood across Studies 1, 4, and 6 were yielded only after taking into account baseline levels. My observations of participants’ communication during the chat tasks support that rejection has implications for individuals’ subsequent social interactions, revealing that rejected participants consistently display different patterns of communication in a relatively unconstrained social interaction. On the whole, these differences suggest an inclination to avoid emotion as well as to avoid talking about oneself and one’s social activities.