Rejection sensitivity in youth — with implications for mentoring

Marston, E. G., Hare, A., & Allen, J. P. (2010). Rejection sensitivity in late adolescence: Social and emotional sequelae. Journal of Research on Adolescence20(4), 959-982.

summarized by Max Wu.


Adolescence is a developmental period during young people may be sensitive to feeling rejected by their peers and others, particularly since they are often developing close frienships and romantic relationships. People who are prone to feeling rejected  (i.e., high rejection sensitivity) may be inclined to perceive rejection in the behaviors of others and to react defensively, which may interfere with the development of strong relationships. This study sought to investigate whether rejection sensitivity would be related to an individual’s psychosocial functioning during this period, and whether gender differences may exist.


This was a longitudinal study of 184 adolescents around the age of 16. Three waves of measurement were collected (start of study, 1 year, 2 years). The sample was racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse; it was drawn from the seventh and eighth grades of a public middle school in the Southeastern United States.

Participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their level of rejection sensitivity by posing hypothetical situations in which rejection by a significant other is possible. Participants were asked to rate their degree of concern or anxiety about the outcome of the situation, and the likelihood that the other person would respond in an accepting manner.

They also completed measures of internalizing symptoms (depression, anxiety). A close friend was nominated by the participant to assess his or her overall social competence.


Late adolescent rejection sensitivity was predictive of changes over time in measures of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and social competence. Interestingly, adolescents who rated as high in rejection sensitivity were more likely to report an increase in internalizing symptoms, even after controlling for their overall social competence. Rejection sensitivity was also related to future decreases in adolescents’ social competence, suggesting that expectations of rejection may lead adolescents to behave in ways that elicit rejection from peers.


Conclusion and Implications

This study lends support to the negative effect of rejection sensitivity, as a greater sensitivity was related to increased depressive and anxiety symptoms. Mentors may be able to provide support that reduces an adolescent’s rejection sensitivity, by helping to identify strengths to build self-confidence. A mentor may also help an adolescent to cope with anxious thoughts about rejection, which may allow a mentee to feel more comfortable making new friends and trying new activities.