Testing an Integrated Interpersonal Theory of Depression: The Role of Dysphoria, Negative Relationship Cognitions and Excessive Reassurance-Seeking in Predicting Rejection

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Stewart, Jeremy
romantic relationships , rejection , interpersonal theories , core beliefs , excessive reassurance-seeking , depression
Coyne’s (1976) interpersonal theory of depression proposes that individuals suffering from depressive symptoms tend to engage in excessive reassurance-seeking (ERS), defined as repetitively asking for assurances from close others about one’s lovability and worth. Research has shown that ERS is associated with negative evaluations from close others and lower partner-reported romantic relationship satisfaction, specifically (Starr & Davila, 2008). In a recent elaboration of Coyne’s theory, Evraire and Dozois (2011) proposed that ERS might only lead to rejection among individuals who possess core beliefs about the instability and unpredictability of relationships. The primary goal of the current study was to provide the first empirical test of this revised model. Furthermore, I sought to extend previous research in 2 important ways by: 1) employing both self-reported and behaviorally-assessed measures of ERS and 2) defining rejection in objective, behavioral terms. I recruited a sample of 118 women who attended an initial laboratory session with their male dating partners. The couple completed measures of ERS, depressive symptoms, anxious attachment (AA), rejection sensitivity (RS), and relationship satisfaction, and engaged in a laboratory task that was later coded for incidences of female ERS. AA and RS were combined to index core beliefs reflecting insecurity in relationships (i.e., “negative relationship cognitions”; NRC). Women completed a contextual interview to retrospectively assess historical romantic relationship rejection events. The women were re-contacted four months later to determine their relationship status. Consistent with hypotheses, behavioral ERS was significantly associated with concurrent male relationship dissatisfaction, but only among dysphoric women with high NRC. Surprisingly, ERS was only significantly associated with historical rejection in non-dysphoric women with low levels of NRC. In the prospective models, I found a main effect of self-reported ERS on partner-initiated rejection, but behavioral ERS was only associated with rejection among non-dysphoric women. My results were inconsistent with theory and previous research in models defining rejection behaviorally. Thus, I proposed revisions to existing interpersonal models to better capture the relationship between ERS and “real-world” rejection. My results underscore the importance of evaluating ERS in a particular relationship when predicting rejection outcomes in that specific relationship.
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