Why do(n’t) you like me? The role of social approach and avoidance motives in attributions following social acceptance and rejection

Abstract

The present research aimed at answering the question why people differ in their way of attributing experienced social acceptance and rejection. Using a motivational approach, two scenario studies (Study 1, N = 280; Study 2, N = 232) and one study using actual social interactions (Study 3, N = 128) supported the hypothesis that dispositional social approach motives are associated with attributions following social acceptance (β = .16–.23, p < .001) but not social rejection (β = −.03 to −.06, p > .13), whereas dispositional social avoidance motives are associated with attributions following social rejection (β = .23–.29, p < .001) but not social acceptance (β = −.02 to −.08, p > .07). These studies demonstrate that social approach and avoidance motives are differentially predictive in social situations with positive compared to negative outcomes. Moreover, social motives play an important role in people’s attributions following their experiences of social acceptance or rejection. Taken together, the three studies suggest that people’s explanations of social acceptance and rejection differ as a function of what they generally want and fear in social interactions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The samples used for Studies 1 and 3 included younger and older adults because those studies were part of an overarching research project examining age differences between young and older adults with respect to social motives and diverse concomitants. The sample for Study 1 consisted of n = 171 younger (29 % men, age range 18–30 years, M = 24.30, SD = 3.42) and n = 109 older adults (58 % men, age range 60–84 years, M = 69.31, SD = 5.72).

    The sample for Study 3 consisted of n = 63 younger (59 % men; age range 18–33 years, M = 23.65, SD = 3.56) and n = 65 older adults (52 % men; age range 61–85 years, M = 71.08, SD = 6.26).

  2. 2.

    There were no significant differences between attributions following the first and the second acceptance scenario (all ps > .34). Attributions following the rejection scenarios, however, differed significantly between the first and the second scenario [internal attribution first scenario: M = −0.21, SD = 1.46; internal attribution second scenario: M = 0.57, SD = 1.66, t(275) = −6.33, p < .001, d = −0.76; general attribution first scenario: M = −0.29, SD = 1.16; general attribution second scenario: M = 0.25, SD = 1.30, t(275) = −3.83, p < .001, d = −0.46].

  3. 3.

    We ran the same analyses separately for the attribution dimensions of stability and globality. The results concerning stability, globality, and generality did not differ systematically. We thus report the findings for the combined dimension of generality.

  4. 4.

    There were no significant differences between most attributions with regard to the order of acceptance and rejection interaction (1 = first position, 2 = second position) (all ps > .65). The attribution following the rejection interaction to internal causes however, significantly differed between the position of the acceptance and rejection interaction [first position of social rejection: M = −0.03, SD = 1.94; second position of social rejection: M = 0.70, SD = 1,74, t(125) = 2.06, p < .05, d = 0.37]. Therefore, we ran the analyses described in the results part of Study 3 controlling for the order of the acceptance and rejection condition. As these results did not differ systematically form the results without the control variable, we only report the findings without the control variables in the result section.

  5. 5.

    In contrast to Study 2, we assessed only feelings of acceptance after the manipulation and did not assess feelings of rejection. This decision was based on the high correlation of the two items in Study 2 (r = −.86, p < .001), indicating that they are the two poles of one scale. High values on the manipulation check indicate high feelings acceptance, whereas low values indicate high feelings of rejection.

  6. 6.

    In the second step of the regression analysis, we entered the interactions between social motives and each study. As only one of the sixteen interactions was statistically significant, these interactions will not be interpreted further.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Grant 100014_126868/1 (Project “Social Approach and Avoidance Motivation—The Role of Age”) from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PIs: Jana Nikitin and Alexandra M. Freund). We thank the Life-Management team for helpful discussions of the work reported in this article, and Mirjam Dönni, Christian Gross, and Mahmoud Hemmo for their help with data collection.

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Correspondence to Simone Schoch.

Appendix

Appendix

Acceptance condition (Study 2)

Imagine that you are invited to participate in a study in which you are to become acquainted with someone of same age and gender within 5 min. As your interaction partner does not initiate the conversation, you start by introducing yourself. After exchanging a few words, the conversation gets more and more lively. Your interaction partner maintains eye contact with you, listens attentively, and seems to show interest in you. It is easy to find common interests. The conversation is very spirited and your interaction partner seems to find the topics discussed interesting. At the end, your interaction partner says: “Wow, that went by fast!” You feel accepted.

Rejection condition (Study 2)

Imagine that you are invited to participate in a study in which you are to become acquainted with someone of same age and gender within 5 min. As your interaction partner does not initiate the conversation, you start by introducing yourself. After exchanging a few words, the conversation stops. Your interaction partner rarely looks at you, does not listen attentively to you, and seems to lack interest in you. You try to come up with new topics in order to find common ground, but the conversation continues to move slowly. Your interaction partner does not seem to find the topics discussed interesting. At the end, your interaction partner says: “Wow, that took forever!” You feel rejected.

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Schoch, S., Nikitin, J. & Freund, A.M. Why do(n’t) you like me? The role of social approach and avoidance motives in attributions following social acceptance and rejection. Motiv Emot 39, 680–692 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9482-1

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Keywords

  • Social motives
  • Approach
  • Avoidance
  • Attribution
  • Social interactions