The Effect of Rejection on Previously Established Relationships: Similarity Plays a Role

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Previous research has found that people who are rejected will sometimes seek to affiliate with strangers after a rejection episode (Maner et al. 2007; Williams & Sommer, 1997). This effect is theorized to reflect seeking for belonging (Smart Richman & Leary, 2009). Research testing how rejection affects relationships with previously established relationship partners, (who were not a party to the rejection) is lacking. Three hypotheses were tested. Hypothesis 1 was that people seek to bolster belonging with established relationship partners following a rejection episode. Study 1 found that female participants indicated bolstering of belonging with a trustworthy friend after recalling a rejection experience. Hypothesis 2 was that people would bolster belonging first with relationship others who share relationship criteria with the rejecter. Study 2a found that the betrayal experienced by heterosexual participants during their most recent breakup predicted their bolstering toward an opposite-sex, but not a same-sex, friend. Study 2b used a measure of rejection instead of betrayal but did not replicate the results of Study 2a. Study 3 manipulated rejection and found that heterosexual participants rejected by a physically attractive other indicated bolstering of belonging toward an opposite-sex, but not a same-sex, friend. Hypothesis 3 was that people would bolster belonging with relationship others who shared idiosyncratic similarities with the rejecter. Rejection and idiosyncratic similarity of a friend to the rejecter were manipulated in Study 4. The results did not support the hypothesis. Potential explanations for these results as well as possible future research are discussed.