Date of Award

Summer 8-20-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cynthia A. Erdley

Second Committee Member

Douglas W. Nangle

Third Committee Member

Emily A.P. Haigh

Additional Committee Members

Rachel L. Grover

Shannon K. McCoy


Rejection sensitive (RS) individuals are at greater risk for emotional maladjustment across the lifespan, with consistent links identified with depression and social anxiety. Yet little is known about interpersonal factors that may affect this association for late adolescents, especially with their romantic partners and close friends. The present study examined relationship qualities of support and negative interactions with romantic partners and friends as moderators of the link between RS and internalizing symptoms. Given the differences between male and female social relationships and experiences, these associations were expected to be further moderated by gender, with RS females in poorer quality relationships being at particular risk for internalizing symptoms. This short-term longitudinal investigation evaluated these associations concurrently and longitudinally to assess for changes in symptoms over time. A college sample of 384 late adolescents (217 females,167 males, mean age 18.78 years) completed self-report measures of rejection sensitivity, relationship quality (i.e., support and negative interactions with friends and romantic partners), social anxiety, and depression. A portion of this sample (n = 197, 130 females, 67 males, 51.3% retention) completed these same measures approximately eight weeks later.

Results indicate that negative, rather than positive, relationship qualities appear to be most influential for RS and associated internalizing symptoms. Friendships also seem to be the interpersonal context most relevant for RS adolescents. Specifically, highly rejection sensitive (HRS) individuals with more negative friendship interactions had greater increases in depressive symptoms over time. When close friendships had few negative interactions, RS was not associated with increases in depression. Therefore, negative relational experiences with close friends appear to function as a risk factor for further development of depressive symptoms among HRS youth. Conversely, preliminary results for social anxiety suggest that HRS individuals experience greater increases in social anxiety symptoms in friendships with low negative interactions. Adolescents with friendships characterized by high levels of negative interactions may be likely to experience social anxiety regardless of RS. Additional preliminary results suggest that HRS females with highly negative friendship interactions are at greatest risk for depressive symptoms, whereas HRS males are at greatest risk for social anxiety symptoms at follow-up. Further research is needed to replicate and confirm these preliminary findings. Clinical implications for RS individuals may include reducing negative friendship interactions as a primary intervention target to decrease current symptoms or prevent further risk for increases in internalizing symptoms.