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6 Adult Attachment and the Inhibition of Rejection

6 Adult Attachment and the Inhibition of Rejection -...

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BALDWIN AND KAY ATTACHMENT AND INHIBITION ADULT ATTACHMENT AND THE INHIBITION OF REJECTION MARK W. BALDWIN McGill University AARON C. KAY Stanford University Recent research has identified the inhibition of negative interpersonal information as a critical social cognitive mechanism associated with adult attachment orienta- tions. Sixty undergraduate participants were conditioned to associate one com- puter tone with interpersonal rejection, and another with acceptance. The tones were played again while the participants performed a lexical decision task that as- sessed the activation of rejection information. To the extent that individuals were low on attachment anxiety, the conditioned tones led to slower reaction times to rejection target words, indicating the inhibition of rejection expectations. The im- plications of such inhibitory processing are discussed. Social life is full of small rejections: A friend turns down an invitation for lunch, a romantic partner seems distracted and inattentive to one’s needs, a stranger glares disapprovingly when one sneezes on the eleva- tor. The thoughts and feelings people take away from such experiences of rejection might have a lot to do with their general sense of security about themselves and their social relationships. Some individuals might attend to and quickly learn contingencies of when rejection is likely to occur, leading them to be wary about extending lunch invitations or sneezing in public, for example. Others might respond by inhibiting or otherwise counteracting rejection-related thoughts and feelings, allow- ing them to carry on without being overly worried about future rejec- tions. 275 Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2003, pp. 275-293 This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Re- search Council of Canada. Address correspondence to Mark Baldwin, Department of Psy- chology, McGill University, 1205 Docteur Penfield, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1; E-mail: [email protected]
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One theoretical perspective that offers some insight into such individ- ual differences is attachment theory. Bowlby (1969, 1973) argued that a core element in personality is the way the individual responds to experi- ences of interpersonal connection and disconnection. This principle has been explored in various domains, both in the context of close, intimate relationships (e.g., Levy, Blatt, & Shaver, 1998; Mikulincer, 1998; Mikulincer & ,Arad 1999) and in more casual social contexts (Pietromonaco & Barrett, 1997; Tidwell, Reis, & Shaver, 1996). While the bulk of this research has been based on self-report (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987) and, occasionally, behavioral measures (e.g., Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992), recent work directly examining the cognitive mecha- nisms underlying attachment orientations has been conducted using so- cial cognitive paradigms. Various microprocesses of attachment cogni- tion have been identified, using reaction time, memory, and priming paradigms (e.g., Baldwin, Fehr, Keedian, Seidel, & Thomson, 1993; Baldwin, Keelan, Fehr, Enns, & Koh-Rangarajoo, 1996; Mikulincer & Orbach, 1995).
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