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November 04, 2013

The relationship between rejection sensitivity and both proactive and reactive aggression.

Our second post today, and the fourth from my dissertation students! This interesting contribution is by Rhiannon Harrison.

Jacobs, N., & Harper, B. (2013). The effects of rejection sensitivity on reactive and proactive aggression. Aggressive Behaviour, 39, 3-12.

The authors’ aims were to investigate whether rejection sensitivity (the tendency to expect rejection in social situations) has a relationship with aggressive behaviour in school-aged children, and if so, would the type of aggression (proactive or reactive) differ according to the type of rejection sensitivity (angry or anxious expectations of rejection).

The Rejection Sensitivity Model set out by Feldman and Downey (1994) posits that if someone experiences rejection in early childhood, they may be more likely to expect rejection from others in later life. Furthermore, they may act in a defensively hostile way due to these expectations and may be more likely to think that others are acting in a hostile manner even in ambiguous situations.

The Two-Factor Model of Aggression as suggested by Dodge and Coie (1987) distinguishes two types of aggression and their characteristics. Reactive Aggression (RA) is a 'hot' emotional state which is largely impulsive and a result of a perceived threat which requires defence. Proactive Aggression (PA) on the other hand reflects a 'cold' emotional state and involves planning and manipulation in order to obtain a perceived goal.

The majority of previous research investigating Rejection Sensitivity (RS) had focused on romantic relationships in adulthood, and where previous research had investigated RS and aggression in children, the testing methodology is argued to be the cause of inconsistent and unclear findings. A direct relationship between RS and Reactive Aggression (RA) had not previously been investigated but both were found to hold common relationships with anger and anxiety. It is suggested that if a relationship was found, it could be due to RS causing "hot" emotional states that are often relied upon when defending oneself from a perceived threat. Further the authors state that if RS is directly linked to RA, it also should not be linked with PA which requires planning.

In order to test their hypotheses, these authors recruited 287 children aged between 9 years and 12 years old. All participants were given self-report questionnaires to assess RS, RA and PA. In order to measure RS, hypothetical vignettes were used - these minimise distress for participating children by asking about their rejection sensitivity in an indirect way. This method allowed the researchers to obtain an overall score of rejection sensitivity, as well as individual scores for both angry expectations of rejection and anxious expectations of rejection.

Boys were found to be more likely to participate in general aggression than girls, and more likely to reactively aggress than girls. However, boys were not more likely to engage in proactive aggression than girls. Interestingly, no gender differences were found for RS, and although girls scored higher than boys on anxious expectations of rejection, there were no gender differences found when looking at angry expectations of rejection. In addition, angry expectations of rejection were found to be related to reactive aggression as predicted by the authors. Further still, relationships were found between RS, RA and PA. However the relationship was strongest between RS and RA. Finally, RS was found to predict RA better than PA. Interestingly, angry expectations of rejection were linked with both PA and RA, although anxious expectations of rejection were related to PA but not RA.

In conclusion, the findings of this investigation suggest that the Rejection Sensitivity Model is generalisable to wider populations than previously studied, however, the authors emphasise the need for further investigation, and longitudinal studies are suggested. Lastly, the paper highlights the Importance of interventions which may alleviate RS, RA and PA in school-aged children. This was also the first study to look at differing types of rejection sensitivity and their relationships with the two types of aggression.


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