Rejection and Depression

Well, no kidding! Of course people who are more sensitive to rejection are going to get depressed more easily – I don’t need a study to tell you that!

But here’s the interesting part: not all people who are sensitive to rejection are equally prone to depression, and there may be interventions that can help protect people sensitive to rejection from depression.

Researchers have known for a while now that people higher in rejection sensitivity – the tendency to anticipate rejection, perceive rejection more easily, and take rejection to heart more – are more likely to become depressed. However, not a lot of work has been done to figure out why exactly this is the case.

To shed some light on how rejection sensitivity relates to depression risk, researchers from University of North Carolina at Greensboro undertook a set of studies looking at people’s depressive symptoms and sensitivity to rejection.

First, the studies were able to replicate a finding that’s already known: beyond just being sensitive to rejection, people who anticipate rejection more are at the highest risk for depression. That is, people who anxiously expect to be rejected in advance tend to have more depressive symptoms.

But the studies went further and showed something new: people who anticipate rejection more and people at risk for depression share a tendency to interpret ambiguous situations in negative ways. In other words, people who anticipate rejection may be at risk for depression because they have more of a negative interpretation bias.

The idea that people at risk for depression have an underlying tendency to interpret things in a negative light is one that has been researched a lot lately. The theory goes that people prone to depression perceive the world differently: they’re more likely to see ambiguous or neutral situations in negative terms.

The new research shows that this negative interpretation bias may also be the link between rejection sensitivity and depression. People who are sensitive to rejection and have more of a negative interpretation bias are more likely to become depressed.

On the flip side, that means reducing negative interpretation bias in people more sensitive to rejection makes those people less likely to develop depression. The new research doesn’t just show a link between rejection sensitivity and depression – it points out a possible way to break that link.

Prompting people who anxiously anticipate rejection to question overly-negative interpretations they hold may make them more resilient to depression. So, call it a positive interpretation bias, but this study seems like good news overall!

What d’you think? Share in the comments!

Image: FreeImages.com/Alex Strenzke