Extensive developmental research has linked peer rejection during adolescence with a host of psychopathological outcomes, including depression. Moreover, recent neuroimaging research has suggested that increased activity in the subgenual region of the anterior cingulate cortex (subACC), which has been consistently linked with depression, is related to heightened sensitivity to peer rejection among adolescents. The goal of the current study was to directly test the hypothesis that adolescents’ subACC responses are predictive of their risk for future depression, by examining the relationship between subACC activity during peer rejection and increases in depressive symptoms during the following year. During a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, 20 13-year-olds were ostensibly excluded by peers during an online social interaction. Participants’ depressive symptoms were assessed via parental reports at the time of the scan and 1 year later. Region of interest and whole-brain analyses indicated that greater subACC activity during exclusion was associated with increases in parent-reported depressive symptoms during the following year. These findings suggest that subACC responsivity to social exclusion may serve as a neural marker of adolescents’ risk for future depression and have implications for understanding the relationship between sensitivity to peer rejection and the increased risk of depression that occurs during adolescence.
Rejection sensitivity is the heightened tendency to perceive or anxiously expect disengagement from others during social interaction. There has been a recent wave of neuroimaging studies of rejection. The aim of the current review was to determine key brain regions involved in social rejection by selectively reviewing neuroimaging studies that employed one of three paradigms of social rejection, namely social exclusion during a ball-tossing game, evaluating feedback about preference from peers and viewing scenes depicting rejection during social interaction. Across the different paradigms of social rejection, there was concordance in regions for experiencing rejection, namely dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), subgenual ACC and ventral ACC. Functional dissociation between the regions for experiencing rejection and those for emotion regulation, namely medial prefrontal cortex, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and ventral striatum, was evident in the positive association between social distress and regions for experiencing rejection and the inverse association between social distress and the emotion regulation regions. The paradigms of social exclusion and scenes depicting rejection in social interaction were more adept at evoking rejection-specific neural responses. These responses were varyingly influenced by the amount of social distress during the task, social support received, self-esteem and social competence. Presenting rejection cues as scenes of people in social interaction showed high rejection sensitive or schizotypal individuals to under-activate the dorsal ACC and VLPFC, suggesting that such individuals who perceive rejection cues in others down-regulate their response to the perceived rejection by distancing themselves from the scene.
Social distance; Gyrus cinguli; Prefrontal cortex; Social support
Peer rejection is particularly pervasive among adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, how adolescents with ASD differ from typically developing adolescents in their responses to peer rejection is poorly understood. The goal of the current investigation was to examine neural responses to peer exclusion among adolescents with ASD compared to typically developing adolescents. Nineteen adolescents with ASD and 17 typically developing controls underwent fMRI as they were ostensibly excluded by peers during an online game called Cyberball. Afterwards, participants reported their distress about the exclusion. Compared to typically developing adolescents, those with ASD displayed less activity in regions previously linked with the distressing aspect of peer exclusion, including the subgenual anterior cingulate and anterior insula, as well as less activity in regions previously linked with the regulation of distress responses during peer exclusion, including the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. Interestingly, however, both groups self-reported equivalent levels of distress. This suggests that adolescents with ASD may engage in differential processing of social experiences at the neural level, but be equally aware of, and concerned about, peer rejection. Overall, these findings contribute new insights about how this population may differentially experience negative social events in their daily lives.
Autism spectrum disorders; Peer rejection; Social exclusion; Adolescence; Functional magnetic resonance imaging
During adolescence, concerns about peer rejection and acceptance become increasingly common. Adolescents regularly experience peer rejection firsthand and witness these behaviors among their peers. In the current study, neuroimaging techniques were employed to conduct a preliminary investigation of the affective and cognitive processes involved in witnessing peer acceptance and rejection—specifically when these witnessed events occur in the immediate aftermath of a firsthand experience with rejection. During an fMRI scan, twenty-three adolescents underwent a simulated experience of firsthand peer rejection. Then, immediately following this experience they watched as another adolescent was ostensibly first accepted and then rejected. Findings indicated that in the immediate aftermath of being rejected by peers, adolescents displayed neural activity consistent with distress when they saw another peer being accepted, and neural activity consistent with emotion regulation and mentalizing (e.g., perspective-taking) processes when they saw another peer being rejected. Furthermore, individuals displaying a heightened sensitivity to firsthand rejection were more likely to show neural activity consistent with distress when observing a peer being accepted. Findings are discussed in terms of how witnessing others being accepted or rejected relates to adolescents’ interpretations of both firsthand and observed experiences with peers. Additionally, the potential impact that witnessed events might have on the broader perpetuation of bullying at this age is also considered.
peer rejection; peer acceptance; adolescence; functional magnetic resonance imaging; bullying
This study examined neural activity with event-related potentials (ERPs) in middle childhood during a computer-simulated ball-toss game, Cyberball. Experiencing fair play initially, children were ultimately excluded by the other players. We focused specifically on “not my turn” events within fair play and rejection events within social exclusion. Dense-array ERPs revealed that rejection events are perceived rapidly. Condition differences (“not my turn” vs. rejection) were evident in a posterior ERP peaking at 420 ms consistent, with a larger P3 effect for rejection events indicating that in middle childhood rejection events are differentiated in < 500 ms. Condition differences were evident for slow-wave activity (500–900 ms) in the medial frontal cortical region and the posterior occipital-parietal region, with rejection events more negative frontally and more positive posteriorly. Distress from the rejection experience was associated with a more negative frontal slow wave and a larger late positive slow wave, but only for rejection events. Source modeling with Geosouce software suggested that slow wave neural activity in cortical regions previously identified in functional imaging studies of ostracism, including subgenual cortex, ventral anterior cingulate cortex and insula was greater for rejection events vs. “not my turn” events.
Social exclusion; Social rejection; Middle childhood; Event-related potentials (ERPs); Source modeling
Peer feedback affects adolescents’ behaviors, cognitions and emotions. We examined neural circuitry underlying adolescents’ emotional response to peer feedback using a functional neuroimaging paradigm whereby, 36 adolescents (aged 9–17 years) believed they would interact with unknown peers postscan. Neural activity was expected to vary based on adolescents’ perceptions of peers and feedback type. Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) activity was found when adolescents indicated how they felt following feedback (acceptance or rejection) from peers of low vs high interest. Greater activation in both cortical (e.g. superior temporal gyrus, insula, anterior cingulate) and subcortical (e.g. striatum, thalamus) regions emerged in response to acceptance vs rejection feedback. Response to acceptance also varied by age and gender in similar regions (e.g. superior temporal gyrus, fusiform, insula), with greater age-related increases in activation to acceptance vs rejection for females than males. Affective response to rejection vs acceptance did not yield significantly greater neural activity in any region. vlPFC response suggests cognitive flexibility in reappraising initial perceptions of peers following feedback. Striatal response suggests that acceptance is a potent social reward for adolescents, an interpretation supported by more positive self-reported affective response to acceptance than rejection from high- but not low-interest peers.
adolescence; cognitive flexibility; peer feedback; social reward
To examine the association between the experience of daily interpersonal stress and levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker that is a key indicator of cardiovascular risk, during the teenage years.
A total of 69 adolescents (Mage = 17.78 years) completed daily diary checklists each night for 14 days in which they reported their experience of negative interpersonal interactions in the domains of family, peers, and school (e.g., conflict with family and friends, peer harassment, punishment by parents and teachers). Blood samples were obtained an average of 8.63 months later and assayed for circulating levels of CRP, using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Measures of body mass index (BMI), socioeconomic status (SES), substance use, stressful life events, rejection sensitivity, and psychological distress were obtained.
A greater frequency of daily interpersonal stress was associated with higher levels of CRP, even after controlling for BMI, SES, substance use, life events, rejection sensitivity, psychological distress, and frequency of daily interpersonal stress 2 years earlier.
Experiencing a high frequency of interpersonal stressors that are typical of adolescent life is associated with higher levels of inflammation even among a normative, healthy sample of adolescents. Additional work should focus on other daily experiences during the adolescent period and their implications for elevated risk for later cardiovascular disease.
C-reactive protein; inflammation; daily interpersonal stress; adolescence
Involvement with friends carries many advantages for adolescents, including protection from the detrimental effects of being rejected by peers. However, little is known about the mechanisms through which friendships may serve their protective role at this age, or the potential benefit of these friendships as adolescents transition to adulthood. As such, this investigation tested whether friend involvement during adolescence related to less neural sensitivity to social threats during young adulthood. Twenty-one adolescents reported the amount of time they spent with friends outside of school using a daily diary. Two years later they underwent an fMRI scan, during which they were ostensibly excluded from an online ball-tossing game by two same-age peers. Findings from region of interest and whole brain analyses revealed that spending more time with friends during adolescence related to less activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula—regions previously linked with negative affect and pain processing—during an experience of peer rejection 2 years later. These findings are consistent with the notion that positive relationships during adolescence may relate to individuals being less sensitive to negative social experiences later on.
adolescence; friendship; peer rejection; functional magnetic resonance imaging
Background: Social exclusion elicits emotional distress, negative mood, and physiological stress. Recent studies showed that these effects were more intense and persisting in socially anxious subjects. The present study examined whether the abnormal reactions of socially anxious subjects can be traced back to previous experiences of relational peer victimization during childhood and adolescence.
Methods: Participants (N = 74) were patients with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder as well as healthy controls. The patient and control groups were subdivided into two subgroups according to the subject’s reports about previous relational peer victimization. Immediate and delayed physiological (skin conductance level and heart rate) and affective reactions to a simulated social exclusion in a ball-toss game (Cyberball) were recorded.
Results: Overall, subjects’ immediate reactions to social exclusion were an increase in skin conductance and a reduction of positive affect. Regardless of the diagnostic status, subjects with a history of relational peer victimization showed a more intense self-reported affective change that was accompanied by a blunted skin conductance response. However, the mood of the subjects with a history of peer victimization recovered during a 15 min waiting period. A diagnosis of social anxiety disorder did not affect the reactions to social exclusion on any measure.
Conclusion: Findings indicate that stress reactions to social exclusion depend more on previous experiences of peer victimization than on a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. The findings indicate that memories of negative social experiences can determine the initial stress reaction to social threats.
cyberball; social anxiety disorder; peer victimization; social exclusion; autonomic arousal; physiological indices
Poor threat-safety discrimination reflects prefrontal cortex dysfunction in adult anxiety disorders. While adolescent anxiety disorders are impairing and predict high risk for adult anxiety disorders, no prior study examines neural correlates of threat-safety discrimination in this group. The current study compares prefrontal cortex function in anxious and healthy adolescents and adults following conditioning and extinction, processes requiring threat-safety learning.
Anxious and healthy adolescents and adults (n=114) completed fear conditioning and extinction in the clinic. Conditioned stimuli (CS+) were neutral faces, paired with an aversive scream. Physiological and subjective data were acquired. Several weeks later, 82 participants viewed the CS+ and morphed images resembling the CS+ in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. During scanning, participants made difficult threat-safety discriminations while appraising threat and explicit memory of the CS+.
During conditioning and extinction, anxious groups reported more fear than healthy groups, but patient groups did not differ on physiology. During imaging, both anxious adolescents and adults exhibited lower sub-genual anterior cingulate (sgACC) activation than healthy peers, specifically when appraising threat. In ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), relative to their age-matched peer groups, anxious adults exhibited reduced activation when appraising threat, whereas anxious adolescents exhibited a U-shaped pattern of activation, with greater activation to the most extreme CS and CS−.
Two regions of the prefrontal cortex are involved in anxiety disorders. Reduced sgACC engagement is a shared feature in adult and adolescent anxiety disorders, but vmPFC dysfunction is age-specific. The unique U-shaped pattern of vmPFC activation in many anxious adolescents could reflect heightened sensitivity to threat and safety conditions. How variations in the pattern relate to later risk for adult illness remains to be determined.
The current study examines indicators of emotional distress and coping that may define sub-populations of adolescents at risk for two potential affect-related mechanisms underlying substance misuse: self-medication and mood-related drinking consequences. Although theory and empirical evidence point to the salience of affect-related drinking to current and future psychopathology, we have little knowledge of whether or for whom such mood-related processes exist in adolescents because few studies have used methods that optimally match the phenomenon to the level of analysis. Consequently, the current study uses multilevel modeling in which daily reports of negative mood and alcohol use are nested within individuals to examine whether adolescents with more emotional distress and poorer coping skills are more likely to evidence self-medication and mood-related drinking consequences. Seventy-five adolescents participated in a multi-method, multi-reporter study in which they completed a 21-day experience sampling protocol assessing thrice daily measures of mood and daily measures of alcohol use. Results indicate that adolescents reporting greater anger are more likely to evidence self-medication. Conversely, adolescents displaying lower emotional distress and more active coping are more likely to evidence mood-related drinking consequences. Implications for identifying vulnerable sub-populations of adolescents at risk for these mechanisms of problematic alcohol use are discussed.
Adolescence; Alcohol; Self-Medication; Negative Affect; Experience Sampling
Background: Social rejection elicits negative mood, emotional distress, and neural activity in networks that are associated with physical pain. However, studies assessing physiological reactions to social rejection are rare and results of these studies were found to be ambiguous. Therefore, the present study aimed to examine and specify physiological effects of social rejection.
Methods: Participants (n = 50) were assigned to either a social exclusion or inclusion condition of a virtual ball-tossing game (Cyberball). Immediate and delayed physiological [skin conductance level (SCL) and heart rate] reactions were recorded. In addition, subjects reported levels of affect, emotional states, and fundamental needs.
Results: Subjects who were socially rejected showed increased heart rates. However, social rejection had no effect on subjects' SCLs. Both conditions showed heightened arousal on this measurement. Furthermore, psychological consequences of social rejection indicated the validity of the paradigm.
Conclusions: Our results reveal that social rejection evokes an immediate physiological reaction. Accelerated heart rates indicate that behavior activation rather than inhibition is associated with socially threatening events. In addition, results revealed gender-specific response patterns suggesting that sample characteristics such as differences in gender may account for ambiguous findings of physiological reactions to social rejection.
Cyberball; social exclusion; autonomic arousal; physiological indices; heart rate; skin conductance
Neuroimaging studies with adults have begun to reveal the neural bases of empathy; however, this research has focused on empathy for physical pain, rather than empathy for negative social experiences. Moreover, this work has not examined adolescents who may frequently witness and empathize with others who experience negative social experiences like peer rejection. Here, we examined neural activity among early adolescents observing social exclusion compared to observing inclusion, and how this activity related to both trait empathy and subsequent prosocial behavior. Participants were scanned while they observed an individual whom they believed was being socially excluded. At least one day prior to the scan they reported their trait empathy, and following the scan they wrote emails to the excluded victim that were rated for prosocial behavior (e.g., helping, comforting). Observing exclusion compared to inclusion activated regions involved in mentalizing (i.e., dorsomedial prefrontal cortex; DMPFC), particularly among highly empathic individuals. Additionally, individuals who displayed more activity in affective, pain-related regions during observed exclusion compared to inclusion subsequently wrote more prosocial emails to excluded victims. Overall findings suggest that when early adolescents witness social exclusion in their daily lives, some may actually ‘feel the pain’ of the victims and act more prosocially toward them as a result.
adolescence; empathy; peer rejection; social exclusion; functional magnetic resonance imaging
This study examined relations among emotional self-regulation, peer rejection, and antisocial behavior in a sample of 122 boys from low-income families who participated in a summer camp and were followed longitudinally from early childhood to early adolescence. Emotional self- regulation strategies were coded in early childhood from a waiting task, measures of peer rejection were collected during middle childhood at the summer camp, and reports of antisocial behavior were obtained during early adolescence. Structural equation modeling was utilized to examine longitudinal relations among these constructs, with results supporting a negative association between use of active distraction and peer rejection and a positive association between peer rejection and antisocial behavior. Furthermore, an indirect effect of active distraction on antisocial behavior was found through peer rejection. Thus, adaptive self-regulation strategy use in early childhood demonstrated direct longitudinal relations with peer rejection and an indirect association with antisocial behavior in early adolescence. Results have implications for early prevention and intervention efforts to foster adaptive self-regulation of emotion and reduce risk for later social problems and delinquency.
Self-regulation; Emotion regulation; Peer relationships; Antisocial behavior; Developmental psychopathology
The endogenous opioid system, which alleviates physical pain, is also known to regulate social distress and reward in animal models. To test this hypothesis in humans (n = 18), we used a μ-opioid receptor (MOR) radiotracer to measure changes in MOR availability in vivo with positron emission tomography (PET) during social rejection (not being liked by others) and acceptance (being liked by others). Social rejection significantly activated the MOR system (i.e., reduced receptor availability relative to baseline) in the ventral striatum, amygdala, midline thalamus, and periaqueductal gray (PAG). This pattern of activation is consistent with the hypothesis that the endogenous opioids play a role in reducing the experience of social pain. Greater trait resiliency was positively correlated with MOR activation during rejection in the amygdala, PAG, and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), suggesting that MOR activation in these areas is protective or adaptive. In addition, MOR activation in the pregenual ACC was correlated with reduced negative affect during rejection. In contrast, social acceptance resulted in MOR activation in the amygdala and anterior insula, and MOR deactivation in the midline thalamus and sgACC. In the left ventral striatum, MOR activation during acceptance predicted a greater desire for social interaction, suggesting a role for the MOR system in social reward. The ventral striatum, amygdala, midline thalamus, PAG, anterior insula, and ACC are rich in MORs and comprise a pathway by which social cues may influence mood and motivation. MOR regulation of this pathway may preserve and promote emotional well-being in the social environment.
opioid; PET; social; rejection; acceptance; depression; mu; stress
This study was performed to investigate differences between children who did and did not experience peer rejection in psychological state through surveys and in emotion processing during an interpersonal stress challenge task to reflect naturalistic interpersonal face-to-face relationships. A total of 20 right-handed children, 10 to 12 yr of age, completed self-rating questionnaires inquiring about peer rejection in school, depression, and anxiety. They then underwent an interpersonal stress challenge task simulating conditions of emotional stress, in reaction to positive, negative and neutral facial expression stimuli, using interpersonal feedbacks, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) for an analysis of neural correlates during the task. Ten were the peer-rejection group, whereas the remainder were the control group. Based on the behavioral results, the peer-rejection group exhibited elevated levels of depression, state anxiety, trait anxiety and social anxiety as compared to the control group. The FMRI results revealed that the peer-rejection group exhibited greater and remarkably more extensive activation of brain regions encompassing the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in response to negative feedback stimuli of emotional faces. The different brain reactivities characterizing emotion processing during interpersonal relationships may be present between children who do and do not experience peer rejection.
Peer Rejection; Child; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Emotional Face Processing
Although social anxiety disorder (SAD) is most often diagnosed during adolescence, few investigations have examined the clinical presentation and daily functional impairment of this disorder exclusively in adolescents. Prior studies have demonstrated that some clinical features of SAD in adolescents are unique relative to younger children with the condition. Furthermore, quality of sleep, a robust predictor of anxiety problems and daily stress, has not been examined in socially anxious adolescents. In this investigation, social behavior and sleep were closely examined in adolescents with SAD (n = 16) and normal control adolescents (NC; n = 14). Participants completed a self-report measure and an actigraphy assessment of sleep. Social functioning was assessed via a brief speech and a social interaction task, during which heart rate and skin conductance were measured. Additionally, participants completed a daily social activity journal for 1 week. No differences were observed in objective or subjective quality of sleep. Adolescents with SAD reported greater distress during the analogue social tasks relative to NC adolescents. During the speech task, adolescents with SAD exhibited a trend toward greater speech latency and spoke significantly less than NC adolescents. Additionally, SAD participants manifested greater skin conductance during the speech task. During the social interaction, adolescents with SAD required significantly more confederate prompts to stimulate interaction. Finally, adolescents with SAD reported more frequent anxiety-provoking situations in their daily lives, including answering questions in class, assertive communication, and interacting with a group. The findings suggest that, although adolescents with SAD may not exhibit daily impaired sleep, the group does experience specific behavioral and physiological difficulties in social contexts regularly. Social skills training may be a critical component in therapeutic approaches for this group.
Children who have experienced chronic parental rejection and exclusion during childhood, as is the case in childhood emotional maltreatment, may become especially sensitive to social exclusion. This study investigated the neural and emotional responses to social exclusion (with the Cyberball task) in young adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated brain responses and self-reported distress to social exclusion in 46 young adult patients and healthy controls (mean age = 19.2±2.16) reporting low to extreme childhood emotional maltreatment. Consistent with prior studies, social exclusion was associated with activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. In addition, severity of childhood emotional maltreatment was positively associated with increased dorsal medial prefrontal cortex responsivity to social exclusion. The dorsal medial prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in self-and other-referential processing, suggesting that the more individuals have been rejected and maltreated in childhood, the more self- and other- processing is elicited by social exclusion in adulthood. Negative self-referential thinking, in itself, enhances cognitive vulnerability for the development of psychiatric disorders. Therefore, our findings may underlie the emotional and behavioural difficulties that have been reported in adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment.
Links among concurrent and longitudinal changes in pubertal development and empathic ability from age 10 to 13 and neural responses while witnessing peer rejection at age 13 were examined in 16 participants. More advanced pubertal development at age 13, and greater longitudinal increases in pubertal development, related to increased activity in regions underlying cognitive aspects of empathy. Likewise, at age 13 greater perspective taking related to activity in cognitive empathy-related regions; however, affective components of empathy (empathic concern and personal distress) were additionally associated with activity in affective pain-related regions. Longitudinal increases in empathic ability related to cognitive and affective empathy-related circuitry. Findings provide preliminary evidence that physical and cognitive-emotional development relate to adolescents’ neural responses when witnessing peer rejection.
Recurrent headache is the most common and disabling pain condition in adolescence. Co-occurrence of psychosocial adversity is associated with increased risk of chronification and functional impairment. Exposure to interpersonal violence seems to constitute an important etiological factor. Thus, knowledge of the multiple pathways linking interpersonal violence to recurrent headache could help guide preventive and clinical interventions. In the present study we explored a hypothetical causal model where the link between exposure to interpersonal violence and recurrent headache is mediated in parallel through loneliness and psychological distress. Higher level of family cohesion and male sex is hypothesized to buffer the adverse effect of exposure to interpersonal violence on headache.
The model was assessed using data from the cross-sectional, population-based Young-HUNT 3 study of Norwegian adolescents, conducted from 2006–2008. A cohort of 10 464 adolescents were invited. The response rate was 73% (7620), age ranged from 12 and 20 years, and 50% (3832) were girls. The study comprised self-report measures of exposure to interpersonal violence, loneliness, psychological distress and family cohesion, in addition to a validated interview on headache, meeting the International Classification of Headache Disorders criteria. Recurrent headache was defined as headache recurring at least monthly during the past year, and sub-classified into monthly and weekly headache, which served as separate outcomes.
In Conditional Process Analysis, loneliness and psychological distress consistently posed as parallel mediating mechanisms, indirectly linking exposure to interpersonal violence to recurrent headache. We found no substantial moderating effect of family cohesion or sex.
Loneliness and psychological distress seem to play crucial roles in the relationship between exposure to interpersonal violence and recurrent headache. To facilitate coping and recovery, it may be helpful to account for these factors in preventive and clinical interventions. Trauma-informed, social relationship-based interventions may represent a major opportunity to alter trajectories of recurrent headache.
Interpersonal violence; Sexual abuse; Bullying; Loneliness; Social isolation; Psychological distress; Family cohesion; Social support; Recurrent headache
Relative to children and adults, adolescents are highly focused on being evaluated by peers. This increased attention to peer evaluation has implications for emotion regulation in adolescence, but little is known about the characteristics of the evaluatee and evaluator that influence emotional reactions to evaluative outcomes. The present study used a computer-based social evaluation task to examine predictors of adolescents’ emotional responses to feedback from unknown peers. Nine-to-seventeen-year-olds (N = 36) completed the “chatroom task” and indicated the degree to which each peer would be interested in interacting with them and how good they felt after receiving acceptance and rejection feedback from peers. We examined whether adolescents’ age and gender impacted their emotional responses to being accepted or rejected by peers of different age groups (i.e., early or middle adolescence) and genders. We also tested whether expectations about peers’ interest was associated with variability in adolescents’ emotional responses to the evaluative outcome. Upon being accepted by middle adolescent male peers, females in the middle relative to early years of adolescence reported greater well-being, whereas males reported similar levels of well-being regardless of their own age. Following acceptance from middle adolescent female peers, females reported greater well-being than males. Adolescents with high expectations for being liked by peers felt better after being accepted versus rejected relative to those with low expectations. For adolescents with low expectations, acceptance and rejection were associated with similar levels of well-being. Adolescents’ emotional responses to peer evaluation are influenced by specific individual characteristics and antecedent preparation for evaluation that may serve an emotion regulatory purpose.
acceptance; emotion regulation; gender; rejection
Social bonds fulfill the basic human need to belong. Being rejected thwarts this basic need, putting bonds with others at risk. Attachment theory suggests that people satisfy their need to belong through different means. Whereas anxious attachment is associated with craving acceptance and showing vigilance to cues that signal possible rejection, avoidant attachment is associated with discomfort with closeness and using avoidant strategies to regulate one’s relationships. Given these different styles by which people satisfy their need to belong (that can operate simultaneously within the same individual), responses to social rejection may differ according to these individual differences in attachment anxiety and avoidance. To test this hypothesis, we used neuroimaging techniques to examine how the degree to which people display each of the two attachment dimensions (anxiety and avoidance) uniquely correlated with their neural activity during a simulated experience of social exclusion. Anxious attachment related to heightened activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula, regions previously associated with rejection-related distress. In contrast, avoidant attachment related to less activity in these regions. Findings are discussed in terms of the strategies that individuals with varying attachment styles might use to promote maintenance of social bonds.
Social rejection; attachment style; fMRI; social neuroscience; social exclusion
This research investigated the hypothesis that girls’ heightened concerns about social evaluation contribute to sex differences in depression and interpersonal competence during early adolescence. A short-term longitudinal study was conducted with 474 adolescents to examine the consequences of heightened social-evaluative concerns. Adolescents reported on their levels of social-evaluative concerns and depressive symptoms. Teachers provided ratings of adolescents’ competence with peers (displays of prosocial and aggressive behavior). As anticipated, girls demonstrated higher levels of social-evaluative concerns, depressive symptoms, and interpersonal competence than did boys. Moreover, path analysis confirmed that heightened social-evaluative concerns were associated both concurrently and over time with higher levels of depression, as well as with higher levels of interpersonal competence. Notably, social-evaluative concerns accounted fully for the sex difference in depression and partially for the sex difference in interpersonal competence. These findings highlight the need to consider both the socioemotional costs and benefits of sex-linked relational orientations.
We developed an ecologically valid virtual peer interaction paradigm—the Chatroom Interact Task in which 60 pre-adolescents and adolescents (ages 9–17 years) were led to believe that they were interacting with other youth in a simulated internet chatroom. Youth received rejection and acceptance feedback from virtual peers. Findings revealed increased pupil dilation, an index of increased activity in cognitive and affective processing regions of the brain, to rejection compared to acceptance trials, which was greater for older youth. Data from a cell-phone Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) protocol completed following the task indicated that increased pupillary reactivity to rejection trials was associated with lower feelings of social connectedness with peers in daily life. Eyetracking analyses revealed attentional biases toward acceptance feedback and away from rejection feedback. Biases toward acceptance feedback were stronger for older youth. Avoidance of rejection feedback was strongest among youth with increased pupillary reactivity to rejection, even in the seconds leading up to and following rejection feedback. These findings suggest that adolescents are sensitive to rejection feedback and seek to anticipate and avoid attending to rejection stimuli. Furthermore, the salience of social rejection and acceptance feedback appears to increase during adolescence.
adolescence; social interaction; peer rejection; pupil dilation; eyetracking; ecological momentary assessment
Social exclusion and risk-taking are both common experiences of concern in adolescence, yet little is known about how the two may be related at behavioral or neural levels. In this fMRI study, adolescents (N=27, 14 male, 14–17 years-old) completed a series of tasks in the scanner assessing risky decision-making before and after an episode of social exclusion. In this particular context, exclusion was associated with greater behavioral risk-taking among adolescents with low self-reported resistance to peer influence (RPI). When making risky decisions after social exclusion, adolescents who had lower RPI exhibited higher levels of activity in right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ), and this response in rTPJ was a significant mediator of the relationship between RPI and greater risk-taking after social exclusion. Lower RPI was also associated with lower levels of activity in lPFC during crashes following social exclusion, but unlike rTPJ this response in lPFC was not a significant mediator of the relationship between RPI and greater risk-taking after social exclusion. The results suggest that mentalizing and/or attentional mechanisms have a unique direct effect on adolescents’ vulnerability to peer influence on risk-taking.