Longitudinal Examination of Depression and Negative Feedback ...
Rejection Sensitivity as a Moderator of Links Between Early
Adolescent Peer Experiences and Later Problem Behavior Trajectories
Joseph S. Tan, Emily G. Marston, Christopher A. Hafen, Joanna M. Chango, & Joseph P. Allen
University of Virginia
We would like to thank the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
for funding awarded to Joseph P. Allen, Principal Investigator, (9 R01 HD058305-A11) for funding to conduct this study as well as for the write-up of this study.
For adolescents, engaging in problem behaviors (e.g. soft drug
use, externalizing behaviors) is normative.
By adulthood, most individuals decline in engagement in these
Adolescent experiences with peers such as peer influence,
peer rejection, and friendship quality have been shown to play
a role in problem behaviors persisting from adolescence into
A question of importance for intervention and prevention
efforts is: For which individuals do negative peer experiences
predict problem behavior persistence?
Rejection sensitivity, an individuals propensity to perceive
potentially rejecting situations as rejecting, may be a key
moderator of the relationship between negative peer
experiences and problem behavior trajectories.
Adolescents sensitive to rejection may persist in engaging in
problem behaviors because of a greater susceptibility to peer
pressure, well as a diminished capability to regulate emotions.
In this longitudinal, multi-method study, we examine the
hypothesis that rejection sensitivity moderates the
relationship between early adolescent peer experiences and
later soft drug use and externalizing behavior trajectories.
Participants were 184 individuals assessed annually from age 13
Assessments were multi-method, including interview,
observational, peer-report, and parent-report data
The sample was 63% European-American, 27% AfricanAmerican, and 14% mixed race or other race/ethnicities.
Baseline median family income was in the $40,000 to $59,000
For externalizing behaviors, rejection sensitivity moderated the
Peer experiences were assessed between ages 13
relationship between dyadic negativity and initial levels of
and 15 through a variety of measures. Adolescents
externalizing behaviors during adolescence (Figure 1). Rejection
and their best friends reported on dyadic friendship
sensitivity served as a risk factor for adolescents with more
quality (Friendship Quality Questionnaire; Parker &
Asher, 1993), popularity was assessed through
sociometric nomination procedures, and dyadic
negativity and communication were observed
Figure 1. Rejection Sensitivity as a Moderator of Links between Adolescent Peer Experiences and Problem Behavior
through a behavioral task.
Soft Drug Use
Rejection sensitivity was assessed repeatedly from
ages 16 through 18 with the Rejection Sensitivity
Questionnaire (Downey & Feldman, 1996).
Soft drug use (Alcohol and Drug Use
Questionnaire; Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman,
1987) was assessed repeatedly from ages 16 to 24
Externalizing behaviors (Child Behavior Checklist;
Achenbach, 1991; Adult Behavior Checklist;
Achenbach & Rescorla, 2003) were assessed
repeatedly from ages 16 to 24 through peer and
Analyses with conditional latent growth curve
suggested that rejection sensitivity moderates the
associations between specific peer experiences in
adolescence and later problem behavior
For soft drug use, rejection sensitivity moderated
the relationship between popularity and initial
levels of soft drug use and the relationship between
communication and growth in drug use (Figure 1).
Rejection sensitivity served as a protective factor
for popular adolescents and a risk factor for
adolescents with poor communication.
X Rejection Sensitivity
For adolescents with negative peer experiences, rejection
sensitivity functions as a risk factor for persistence in
externalizing behavior engagement.
For socially-challenged adolescents, rejection sensitivity
serves as a risk factor for persistence in soft drug use, but for
socially-successful adolescents, rejection sensitivity serves as a
protective factor for soft drug use.
Engaging in problem behaviors may serve as a maladaptive
coping mechanism or a way to avoid negative social outcomes
for those with negative peer experiences in early adolescence.
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