Two Sides of the Same Coin? Behavioral and Cognitive Responses to Social Rejection on the Basis of Higher and Lower Socioeconomic Status
Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
University of California, Berkeley
Professor R. Mendoza-Denton, Chair
Existing research shows that individuals seek to avoid painful and costly social rejection (Ayduk, Mendoza-Denton, Mischel, Downey, Peake, & Rodriguez, 2000; Mendoza-Denton, Downey, Purdie, Davis, & Pietrzak, 2002). Some of this past research has debated the nature of socioeconomic status-based rejection and whether there is similarity between the nature of lower and higher SES rejection (Johnson, Richeson, & Finkel, 2011; Exline & Zell, 2012). In my research, I tested whether SES-based rejection anxiety exists for both lower and higher SES individuals and whether anxiety over such rejection would predict context-specific behavioral changes, namely identity concealment. To this end, I developed a scale measuring an individual's anxiety over potential social rejection based on his or her socioeconomic status (RS-s anxiety). I hypothesized that individuals all along the SES continuum would be vulnerable to rejection anxiety and that anxiety would be positively related to concealment behaviors. I expected greater sensitivity and concealment among lower SES individuals than higher SES individuals. Lower SES individuals experience less control of their environment and are more likely to encounter social rejection (Gallo, Espinosa de los Monteros, & Shivpuri, 2009). I measured identity concealment across two environments: at the university and at home. In the measure development stage and across two studies, RS-s anxiety was reported by individuals of both lower and higher SES. Across two studies greater SES identity-based rejection anxiety was found to predict greater self-reported SES identity concealment in the university setting. This positive relationship emerged among both lower and higher SES participants (Study 1 and Study 2). Greater SES identity-based rejection anxiety also predicted greater self-reported identity concealment in the home setting, but only for participants who reported a strong sense of belonging to a lower SES group (Study 2). RS-s anxiety was positively associated with existing social comparison measures and negatively correlated with self-esteem measures (Study 2).