Anxious and Angry Rejection Sensitivity, Social Withdrawal, and Retribution in High and Low Ambiguous Situations


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Griffith University QLD 4222 Australia. Email:



Rejection sensitivity (RS) is a tendency to expect, perceive, and overreact to rejection. Our objective was to examine whether anxious and angry RS have specific associations with negative social reactions, and whether responses are intensified in situations of high rejection ambiguity.


In two studies, youth (N = 464 and N = 371) reported their RS and anticipated responses to social scenarios. In Study 1, all scenarios portrayed overt rejection events. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to conditions portraying overt or ambiguous rejection.


Greater rejection expectation was associated with more negative reactions to rejection. Moreover, as expected, anxiety about rejection was uniquely associated with withdrawal, and anger about rejection was uniquely associated with retribution (i.e., reactive aggression). In the second study, RS persons responded more negatively than others to both overt and high ambiguous rejections, but retribution was intensified among participants high in rejection expectation when rejection was ambiguous, and withdrawal was intensified among participants high in anxious RS in overt rejection situations.


Consistent with the revised RS model, there are different patterns of emotions, cognitions, and behaviors in response to high and low ambiguous rejection events, which are heightened in youth sensitive to rejection.