Whether people perceive that they are socially rejected or accepted plays a role in determining how individuals evaluate themselves and the world around them. People who generally feel accepted or included by important others may fare better emotionally and interpersonally than people who generally feel rejected or excluded. In fact, research has demonstrated that people may possess a fundamental need to belong that closely ties their feelings of self-worth, or self-esteem, with their yearnings for social acceptance (Baumeister and Leary 1995). Because of the apparent pervasiveness of people’s quest for social inclusion, systematic investigation of experiences and consequences of social rejection has enjoyed considerable popularity. Social psychologists, for example, may be interested in examining how people’s perceptions of inclusion or exclusion during a given situation may influence their self-esteem. Clinical psychologists, on the other hand, may be more interested in investigating the long-term consequences of people’s perceptions of inclusion or exclusion (e.g., marital satisfaction).
One theory of self-esteem, sociometer theory, states that people’s self-esteem and mood may function as a gauge, much like a fuel gauge, alerting them when they are experiencing feelings of rejection or exclusion (Leary, Tambor, Terdal, and Downs 1995). People experience increases in state self-esteem (momentary feelings of self-worth) and positive mood in response to inclusion experiences and decreases in state self-esteem and positive mood in response to exclusion experiences. In fact, people may be attuned more to decreases in perceived social acceptance than to increases in social acceptance (Leary, Haupt, Strausser, and Chokel 1998). This is because feelings of social rejection provide a signal for the rejected person to behave in ways that will increase their likelihood of social inclusion at the current time or in the future. For example, if a man perceives that he is being socially excluded, he may make a greater effort to increase his interaction partner’s liking for him. Alternately, he may be aggressive toward his rejector, temporarily sacrificing his need for acceptance but, perhaps, influencing the rejector and others to reconsider excluding him in the future.
Because people respond to experiences of social rejection in different fashions, researchers have investigated the influence of certain individual difference, or personality, variables on their reactions to instances of social inclusion, including, for example the influence of trait, or overall self-esteem, and rejection sensitivity (Downey and Feldman 1996) on people’s responses to exclusion feedback. Although trait self-esteem does not differentially influence people’s responses to exclusion, rejection sensitivity, a tendency to anxiously perceive and interpret social interactions as exclusion experiences, may do so. More specifically, people who are highly sensitive to rejection may respond to perceived exclusion experiences in ways that ultimately lead to continued negative social interactions. In contrast, people who are less sensitive to rejection may be both more likely to accurately identify rejection experiences and more adept at restoring positive interpersonal interactions.
SEE ALSO Self-Awareness Theory; Self-Esteem; Sociometry
Baumeister, Roy F., and Mark R. Leary. 1995. The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psychological Bulletin 117: 497-529.
Downey, Geraldine, and Scott I. Feldman. 1996. Implications of Rejection Sensitivity for Intimate Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70: 1327-1343.
Leary, Mark R., Alison L. Haupt, Kristine S. Strausser, and Jason T. Chokel. 1998. Calibrating the Sociometer: The Relationship between Interpersonal Relationships and State Self-Esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1290-1299.
Leary, Mark R., Ellen S. Tambor, Sonja K. Terdal, and Deborah L. Downs. 1995. Self-Esteem as an Interpersonal Monitor: The Sociometer Hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68: 518-530.
Jorgianne Civey Robinson