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Attenuating reactivity among low self-esteem individuals: The role of attentional-control


Securing social acceptance and avoiding social rejection are basic human needs. When faced with rejection, individuals low in self-esteem show elevated defensive psychological reactions. However, an emerging literature indicates that individual differences in attentional-control - the ability to direct and maintain attentional focus - might attenuate these reactions. In three studies, the present research further investigated the role attentional-control plays in attenuating reactivity to rejection among low self-esteem individuals. Self-esteem and attentional-control were measured with questionnaires. In Study 1 we found that low self-esteem high attentional-control individuals perceived and construed social rejection in less threatening ways. In Study 2 we found that that low self-esteem high attentional-control individuals showed enhanced BOLD response in brain regions related to emotion regulation (rostral anterior cingulate cortex) when judging the valence of artwork that depicts social rejection. In Study 3, we found that following a real-life rejection experience, rumination is significantly reduced by the second day among low self-esteem high attentional-control people, but not in their low attentional-control counterparts. Consistent with prior research demonstrating the buffering role of attentional-control in self-esteem (Gyurak & Ayduk, 2007), these studies indicate that individuals low in self-esteem but high in attentional-control responded less negatively to social rejection than low self-esteem low attentional-control individuals. Finally, in Study 4, we explored the correlates of attentional-control measured by the Attentional Control Scale (Derryberry & Reed, 2002) used in the first three studies by examining its relationship to self-report measures of emotion and self-regulatory scores, and performance on executive function measures. These results showed that higher scores on the Attentional Control Scale were related to emotion reappraisal ability and conscientiousness. Furthermore, there was a significant relationship between higher scores on the Attentional Control Scale and complex executive function measure of Verbal Fluency. Taken together, these studies demonstrate that attentional-control attenuates defensive reactions to social rejection among otherwise vulnerable low self-esteem individuals, possibly via the engagement of behavioral and emotion regulatory mechanisms.

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