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Rejection sensitivity as a mediator of the impact of childhood exposure to family violence on adult attachment behavior

  • Scott Feldman (a1) and Geraldine Downey (a1)

Substantial evidence indicates a link between exposure to family violence in childhood and troubled social relationships. We draw on attachment and social-cognitive theory to formulate a model of the mechanisms underlying this association. The model proposes that early experiences of overt rejection (e.g., physical maltreatment) or covert rejection (e.g., emotional neglect) are internalized as sensitivity to rejection. In this study, we operationalize sensitivity to rejection in social-cognitive terms as a tendency to expect and be concerned about rejection across a range of social situations. We hypothesize that rejection sensitivity mediates the link between exposure to family violence and adult attachment behavior. Data from a survey of 212 undergraduates support this hypothesis and also provide evidence that indicates sensitivity to rejection underlies both avoidant and ambivalent patterns of insecure adult attachment behavior. Overall, the results illustrate the power of a process approach to explaining the developmental sequelae of maltreatment.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Scott Feldman or Geraldine Downey, Psychology Department ,Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.
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