Acceptance, Rejection, and State Self-Esteem

mountain stream in autumn

Our own research shows that individuals’ feelings about themselves vary systematically as a function of even minor changes in other people’s appraisals of them. Leary, Tambor, Terdal, and Downs (1995, Study 3) gave participants bogus feedback indicating that they were either included or excluded as members of a laboratory group and that their membership was based either on a random selection or a vote of the other group members. Participants who thought they were excluded on the basis of a group vote subsequently showed notably lower state self-esteem than the other conditions. A second study (Leary et al., 1995, Study 4) conceptually replicated this finding by showing that participants who believed that another individual was ambivalent about interacting with them had lower state self-esteem than those who thought the other person wanted to interact with them.
Leary, Haupt, Strausser, and Chokel (1998, Study 4) provided participants with ongoing bogus feedback from another individual and measured state self-esteem “on line” by having participants move a computer mouse to indicate how they were feeling about themselves in real time. State self-esteem increased as a function of feedback that connoted social acceptance and declined as a function of feedback that connoted rejection. In fact, 77% of the reliable variance in state self-esteem could be accounted for by the degree to which the interpersonal feedback connoted acceptance vs. rejection. Interestingly, the relationship between rejection-acceptance feedback and state self-esteem was not strictly linear, taking an ogival function that flattened at the bottom and top of the curve. This ogival pattern, which was replicated in three other studies (Leary et al., 1998), suggests that self-esteem is most responsive to acceptance-rejection feedback in the middle range and less so at the extremes.

In another study (Leary et al., 1995, Study 2), participants wrote essays about a recent occasion on which they felt accepted or rejected, then answered questions regarding how excluded they felt in the situation and how they had felt about themselves at the time. Results showed that the more excluded that participants felt in the situation, the worse they felt about themselves. Ratings of perceived exclusion correlated very highly (between -.68 and -.92, depending on condition) with state self-esteem

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