Differential Effects of Rejection and Acceptance on Feeling Shocked, Numb, and Neutral

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According to the numbness hypothesis, rejection may not result in negative affect, but rather create several “nonvalenced” feelings, including feeling shocked, neutral, and numb. These feelings are hypothesized to lessen the extent to which people respond emotionally to various situations (emotional responsiveness). This project investigates (a) whether rejection produces these rarely assessed “nonvalenced” states, (b) to what extent these states are similar to one another and not negative, and (c) whether these states account for rejected individuals’ lack of emotional responsiveness. In 3 experiments, participants experienced 3 different rejection manipulations. Participants reported their positive, negative, and “nonvalenced” feelings (Experiments 1, 2, and 3), and completed measures of emotional responsiveness (Experiments 2 and 3). A meta-analysis across the 3 experiments indicated that rejection increased negative affectivity, anger, hurt feelings, sadness, shock, and numbness, and decreased happiness, but did not significantly alter neutrality, positive affectivity, nor anxiety. In line with the view that these nonvalenced states are discriminable from each other, but in contrast with the numbness hypothesis, shock and numbness were positively correlated with negative affective states; whereas neutrality displayed weaker to null associations with them. Lastly, neither shock, neutrality, nor numbness mediated the link between rejection and emotional responding. In fact, increased negative and positive affect mediated the association between rejection and enhanced emotional responding. Overall, the data are inconsistent with the numbness hypothesis; albeit rejection produces shock and numbness, these 2 states are highly associated with increased negative affect and did not dampen emotional responsiveness.

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