Government and International Relations Honors Papers

The Harsh Sting of Rejection: Rejection Sensitivity, Attachment Styles, Autobiographical Memory, and Why Some Feel the Sting More Than Others

Aili Weeks, Connecticut College

Document Type Honors Paper


Rejection sensitivity is the disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and
intensely react to rejection (Downey & Feldman, 1996). When highly RS people are rejected, they typically react with hostility and aggression against those who caused the perceived rejection and their intimate relationships are challenging because of this. College-age women and men (N=160) recorded three autobiographical memories of rejection, completed the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ), Relationship Questionnaire (RQ) to measure attachment styles, the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) to measure their overall happiness with their lives, and the Thinking About Life Experiences (TALE) questionnaire to measure how the participants used their rejection memories (either the self, directive, or social function). The three rejection memories were coded for themes in specificity, integration (meaning-making), and redemption or contamination. It was found that participants with high levels of rejection sensitivity rated their rejection memories to be significantly more important (p = .014), more negative (p < .001), less positive (p = .027), and more frequently thought about (p < .001) than participants with low levels of rejection sensitivity. Participants high in rejection sensitivity used the self (p = .004) and social (p = .005) functions of memory and had more specific (p = .030) and contamination (p = .025) and less redemption (p = .026) memory themes than participants low in rejection sensitivity. Participants with high rejection sensitivity had significantly lower satisfaction with life than participants low in RS (p < .001). These results indicate that the way highly rejection sensitive individuals respond and interpret their rejection memories strongly affects the way their sensitivity to rejection forms and thus their relationships with other people.


The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.