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How do rejection experiences influence the interpretation of messages in people with high self-esteem versus people with low self-esteem? Previous research finds that ambiguous or neutral information will be encoded according to one's mood, a phenomenon referred to as the mood congruent encoding hypothesis (Schwarz & Clore, 2006). The present study examines whether self-esteem buffers against the negative effects that a negative mood stemming from a rejection experience has on the interpretation of emotionally neutral, written information. It is hypothesized that people with low self-esteem who have experienced a rejection experience will interpret a neutral message and the sender more negatively, and as more threatening than individuals with high self-esteem. This hypothesis will be tested in two steps. At Time 1, participants will complete baseline measures of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965), the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (Downey & Feldman, 1996), and the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin & Terry, 1988) during the psychology department's mass testing session. At Time 2, participants will come to the lab and be randomly assigned to write about one of three things: a past experience of rejection (high rejection condition), acceptance (low rejection condition), or an event unrelated to rejection or acceptance (control condition). Participants will then read an emotionally positive, negative, and neutral piece of text, ostensibly written by another person, and evaluate whether they perceive the written text to be emotionally positive or negative, as well as describe their perceptions of the writer. Data will be analyzed to see whether there is a significant difference in interpretation of the neutral stimulus after undergoing a rejection experience, based on one's self-esteem level. Identifying connections between self-esteem and rejection sensitivity is important in determining under which circumstances individuals carry rejection experiences into other aspects of life to predict and explain interpersonal interactions.

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Honors Thesis

Primary Advisor

Erin O'Mara

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The impact of self-esteem level on the interpretation of ambiguous stimuli after a rejection experience