Salivary Cortisol in Response to Acute Social Rejection and Acceptance by Peers

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Past research indicates that social rejection predicts a wide range of psychological problems (e.g., depression), but laboratory studies examining self-reports of negative affect after social rejection have reported inconsistent results. Salivary cortisol was measured before and after a social rejection/acceptance manipulation for objective assessment of psychological distress subsequent to peer rejection. Rejected participants were predicted to show significantly greater salivary cortisol than accepted or control participants. The present research also examined several factors that may moderate the relationship between acute rejection and cortisol. As predicted, rejected participants exhibited significantly higher cortisol than accepted or control participants. Defensiveness moderated the relationship between rejection and cortisol; highly defensive rejected participants showed significantly lower cortisol than less defensive rejected participants after peer rejection. Results indicate that social rejection causes psychological distress, but highly defensive individuals appear to be less susceptible than less defensive individuals to increases in salivary cortisol after acute social rejection.