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The less I get, the more I punish: A moderated-mediation model of rejection sensitivity and guilt in depression


Depression is known to affect how individuals perceive social exchanges, either negative or positive ones. These difficulties are thought to partly arise from depression-related guilt and rejection sensitivity. Here, we examined whether individuals with elevated levels of depression reported more guilt after engaging in a series of controlled exchanges in the Ultimatum Game (UG) and if rejection sensitivity mediated this relationship in negative interactions. To this end, we utilized a multi-round, multi-shot UG in which participants (N = 72) were sequentially paired with (1) unfair and (2) altruistic allocators. State guilt and perceived fairness ratings were collected throughout the Ultimatum Game. Alternatively, we looked into perceived fairness of received offers and harm caused to the allocator as potential moderators of the mediation model. As expected, we found that rejection sensitivity partially mediated the relationship between depression and guilt. Interestingly, the effect of depression through rejection sensitivity on guilt was stronger when participants caused more harm to the allocator than when they perceived the allocator as extremely unfair. A path analysis was performed as well to check for goodness of fit of the moderated mediation model. Exploratory, we looked at how depression may interfere with the emotional and behavioral response in positive exchanges as well. Overall, our findings may contribute to the understanding of the dynamics in interpersonal transactions of depressed individuals with relevance for counseling and diagnosis. Theoretical implications and interpretive caveats are discussed.

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We would like to thank Dr. Marian Popa (University of Bucharest) for his valuable statistical advisory input.

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Correspondence to Denisa Caculidis-Tudor.

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Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval was granted by the Ethics Committee of the University of Bucharest.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

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Caculidis-Tudor, D., Bică, A., Ianole-Călin, R. et al. The less I get, the more I punish: A moderated-mediation model of rejection sensitivity and guilt in depression. Curr Psychol (2021).

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  • Depression
  • Ultimatum game
  • Guilt
  • Rejection sensitivity