Skip to main content

Justice and rejection sensitivity in children and adolescents with ADHD symptoms


Justice sensitivity captures individual differences in the frequency with which injustice is perceived and the intensity of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions to it. Persons with ADHD have been reported to show high justice sensitivity, and a recent study provided evidence for this notion in an adult sample. In 1,235 German 10-to 19-year olds, we measured ADHD symptoms, justice sensitivity from the victim, observer, and perpetrator perspective, the frequency of perceptions of injustice, anxious and angry rejection sensitivity, depressive symptoms, conduct problems, and self-esteem. Participants with ADHD symptoms reported significantly higher victim justice sensitivity, more perceptions of injustice, and higher anxious and angry rejection sensitivity, but significantly lower perpetrator justice sensitivity than controls. In latent path analyses, justice sensitivity as well as rejection sensitivity partially mediated the link between ADHD symptoms and comorbid problems when considered simultaneously. Thus, both justice sensitivity and rejection sensitivity may contribute to explaining the emergence and maintenance of problems typically associated with ADHD symptoms, and should therefore be considered in ADHD therapy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders––DSM-V. American Psychiatric Association, Washington

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Baumert A, Beierlein C, Schmitt M, Kemper CJ, Kovaleva A, Liebig S, Rammstedt B (2013). Measuring four perspectives of justice sensitivity with two items each. J Pers Assess 96:380–390. doi:10.1080/00223891.2013.836526

  3. 3.

    Baumert A, Gollwitzer M, Staubach M, Schmitt M (2011) Justice sensitivity and the processing of justice-related information. Eur J Pers 25:386–397. doi:10.1002/per.800

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Becker A, Hagenberg N, Roessner V, Woerner W, Rothenberger A (2004) Evaluation of the self-reported SDQ in a clinical setting: do self-reports tell us more than ratings by adult informants? Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 13:17–24. doi:10.1007/s00787-004-2004-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Berenson KR, Gyurak A, Ayduk Ö, Downey G, Garner MJ, Mogg K, Pine DS (2009) Rejection sensitivity and disruption of attention by social threat cues. J Res Pers 43:1064–1072. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.07.007

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Bondü R, Elsner B Justice sensitivity in childhood and adolescence (under review)

  7. 7.

    Bondü R, Krahé B Links of justice sensitivity and rejection sensitivity with aggression in children and adolescents (under review)

  8. 8.

    Canu WH, Carlson CL (2007) Rejection sensitivity and social outcomes of young adult men with ADHD. J Atten Disord 10:261–275. doi:10.1177/108/7054706288106

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Connor DF, Chartier KG, Preen EC, Kaplan RF (2010) Impulsive aggression in attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder: symptom severity, co-morbidity, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder subtype. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol 20:119–126. doi:10.1089/cap.2009.0076

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Crick N, Dodge K (1994) A review and reformulation of social information-processing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychol Bull 115:74–101. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.115.1.74

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Downey G, Feldman SI (1996) Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. J Pers Soc Psychol 70:1327–1343. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.6.1327

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Downey G, Lebolt A, Rincón C, Freitas AL (1998) Rejection sensitivity and children’s interpersonal difficulties. Child Dev 69:1074–1091. doi:10.2307/1132363

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Lynskey MT (1993) Prevalence and comorbidity of DSM-III-R diagnoses in a birth cohort of 15 year olds. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychol 32:1127–1134. doi:10.1097/00004583-199311000-00004

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Fetchenhauer D, Huang X (2004) Justice sensitivity and distributive decisions in experimental designs. Pers Individ Differ 36:1015–1029. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(03)00197-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Gershon J (2002) A meta-analytic review of gender differences in ADHD. J Atten Disord 5:143–154. doi:10.1177/108705470200500302

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Gillberg C, Gillberg IC, Rasmussen P, Kadesjö B, Söderström H, Råstam M, Niklasson L (2004) Co-existing disorders in ADHD––implications for diagnosis and intervention. Eur J Child Adolesc Psychiatry 13:80–92. doi:10.1007/s00787-004-1008-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Gollwitzer M, Rothmund T, Pfeiffer A, Ensenbach C (2009) Why and when justice sensitivity leads to pro- and antisocial behavior. J Res Pers 43:999–1005. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.07.003

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Gollwitzer M, Rothmund T, Süßenbach P (2013) The sensitivity to mean intentions (SeMI) model: basic assumptions, recent findings, and potential avenues for future research. Soc Pers Psychol Compass 7:415–426. doi:10.1111/spc3.12041

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Gollwitzer M, Schmitt M, Schalke R, Maes J, Baer A (2005) Asymmetrical effects of justice sensitivity perspectives on prosocial and antisocial behavior. Soc Justice Res 18:183–201. doi:10.1007/s11211-005-7368-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Goodman R (1997) The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 38:581–586. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1997.tb01545.x

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Greenberg J (2006) Losing sleep over organizational injustice: attenuating insomniac reactions to underpayment inequity with supervisory training in interactional justice. J Appl Psychol 91:58–69. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.1.58

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Greenberg J (2010) Organizational injustice as an occupational health risk. Acad Manag Ann 4:205–243. doi:10.1080/19416520.2010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Hodgens JB, Cole J, Boldizar J (2000) Peer-based differences among boys with ADHD. J Clin Child Psychol 29:443–452. doi:10.1207/S15374424JCCP2903_15

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Hoza B (2007) Peer functioning in children with ADHD. J Pediatr Psychol 32:655–663. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsm024

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Huseman RC, Hatfield JD, Miles EW (1987) A new perspective on equity theory: the equity sensitivity construct. Acad Manag Rev 12:222–234. doi:10.5465/AMR.1987.4307799

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Kessler RC, Adler L, Barkley R, Biederman J, Conners CK, Zaslavsky AM (2006) The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: results from the National Comorbitity Survey Replication. Am J Psychiatry 163:716–723. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.4.716

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Klasen H, Woerner W, Wolke D, Meyer R, Overmeyer S, Kaschnitz W, Rothenberger A, Goodman R (2000) Comparing the German versions of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ-Deu) and the child behavior checklist. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 9:271–276. doi:10.1007/s007870070030

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    London B, Downey G, Bonica C, Paltin I (2007) Social causes and consequences of rejection sensitivity. J Res Adolesc 17:481–506. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2007.00531.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Marston EG, Hare A, Allen JP (2010) Rejection sensitivity in late adolescence: social and emotional sequelae. J Res Adolesc 20:959–982. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00675.x

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    McDonald KL, Bowker JC, Rubin KH, Laursen B, Duchene MS (2010) Interactions between rejection sensitivity and supportive relationships in the prediction of adolescents’ internalizing difficulties. J Youth Adolesc 39:563–574. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9519-4

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Moulton Sarkis S (2008) Making the grade with ADD: a student’s guide to succeeding in college with attention deficit disorder. New Harbinger, Oakland

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Nijmeijer JS, Minderaa RB, Buitelaar JK, Mulligan A, Hartman CA, Hoekstra PJ (2008) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and social dysfunctioning. Clin Psychol Rev 28:692–708. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.10.003

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Perner J, Kain W, Barchfeld P (2002) Executive control and higher-order theory of mind in children at risk of ADHD. Infant Child Dev 11:141–158. doi:10.1007/s00406-007-0712-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Ravens-Sieberer, Bullinger (2000). KINDLR. Fragebogen zur Erfassung der gesundheitsbezogenen Lebensqualität bei Kindern und Jugendlichen. Revidierte Form. (Questionnaire on health-related quality of life in children and adolescents. Revised version). Retrieved from:

  35. 35.

    Rossmann P (2005) DTK. Depressionstest für Kinder. Verlag Hans Huber, Bern

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Rothmund T, Gollwitzer M, Klimmt C (2011) Of virtual victims and victimized virtues: differential effects of experienced aggression in video games on social cooperation. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 37:107–119. doi:10.1177/0146167210391103

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Rucklidge JJ, Brown DL, Crawford S, Kaplan BJ (2006) Retrospective reports of childhood trauma in adults with ADHD. J Atten Disord 9:631–641

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Safren SA, Perlman CA, Sprich S, Otto MW (eds) (2005) Mastering your adult adhd: a cognitive-behavioral treatment program therapist guide. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Schäfer T, Kraneburg T (2012) The kind nature behind the unsocial semblance: ADHD and justice sensitivity––a pilot study. J Atten Disord 20:1–13. doi:10.1177/1087054712466914

    Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Schmitt M, Baumert A, Gollwitzer M, Maes J (2010) The justice sensitivity inventory: factorial validity, location in the personality facet space, demographic pattern, and normative data. Soc Justice Res 23:211–238. doi:10.1007/s11211-010-0115-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Schmitt M, Dörfel M (1999) Procedural injustice at work, justice sensitivity, job satisfaction and psychosomatic well-being. Eur J Soc Psychol 29:443–453. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(199906)29:4<443:AID-EJSP935>3.0.CO;2-C

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Schmitt M, Gollwitzer M, Maes J, Arbach D (2005) Justice sensitivity: assessment and location in the personality space. Eur J Psychol Assess 21:202–211. doi:10.1027/1015-5759.21.3.202

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Schmitt M, Neumann R, Montada L (1995) Dispositional sensitivity to befallen injustice. Soc Justice Res 4:385–407. doi:10.1007/BF02334713

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Sobanski E, Brüggemann D, Alm B, Kern S, Deschner M, Schubert T, Rietschel M (2007) Psychiatric comorbidity and functional impairment in a clinically referred sample of adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 257:371–377. doi:10.1007/s00406-007-0712-8

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was funded by a German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) Grant (No. GRK 1668/1-583855).

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rebecca Bondü.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bondü, R., Esser, G. Justice and rejection sensitivity in children and adolescents with ADHD symptoms. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 24, 185–198 (2015).

Download citation


  • ADHD
  • Justice sensitivity
  • Rejection sensitivity
  • Conduct problems
  • Depressive symptoms