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A Longitudinal Rejection Sensitivity Model of Depression and Aggression: Unique Roles of Anxiety, Anger, Blame, Withdrawal and Retribution

Abstract

In this longitudinal study, attributional and social processes involved in symptoms of mental health problems (depressive symptoms and aggressive behavior) were identified by investigating anxious and angry rejection sensitivity (RS), causal attributions of self-blame and peer-blame, and responses to rejection threat of withdrawal and retribution. Young adolescents (N = 713, grades 5–7) completed questionnaires three times in their regular classrooms over 14 months. Participants who reported more self-blame for rejection were more likely to withdraw in response to rejection threat, and withdrawal and anxious RS were associated with increased depressive symptoms at T3 relative to T1. In contrast, adolescents higher in the angry form of RS and who reported more peer-blame for rejection were more likely to seek retribution, which in turn was associated with more overt/relational aggressive behavior at T3 relative to T1. Depressive symptom level measured at T1 also was associated with later RS and coping with withdrawal, and aggressive behavior at T1 was associated with later retribution. Sex of the participants did not moderate any longitudinal associations, and only one prospective path, from T1 depressive symptoms to T2 RS anxious, was moderated by age.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council DP1096183. We thank Leanne McGregor, Belinda Goodwin, and Shawna Mastro for their contributions to project management, data collection, and data entry. Finally, we appreciate the approval for this project from Education Queensland and the school and student participants.

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Correspondence to Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck.

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Study procedures were in accordance with current guidelines for ethics in human research. Approval was obtained from the Griffith University Human Ethics Review Committee prior to conducting this research.

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Informed consent was obtained from all parents. Following parent consent, adolescent participants were informed and able to decline participation. Withdrawal from the study was also possible.

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Zimmer-Gembeck, M.J., Nesdale, D., Webb, H.J. et al. A Longitudinal Rejection Sensitivity Model of Depression and Aggression: Unique Roles of Anxiety, Anger, Blame, Withdrawal and Retribution. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 1291–1307 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-016-0127-y

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Keywords

  • Peer rejection
  • Coping
  • Rejection sensitivity, depressive symptoms
  • Aggressive behavior