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When Does Rejection Trigger Aggression? A Test of the Multimotive Model

NCJ Number
Frontiers in Psychology Volume: 12 Dated: 2021
Date Published

In this study, we conducted the first full test of the  Multimotive Model (MMM) as well as expanded the model.


Research has sought to identify the conditions under which rejection leads to retaliation. The Multimotive Model (MMM) proposes that there are three primary behavioral responses to rejection: prosocial (e.g., befriending others), asocial (e.g., withdrawal), and antisocial behavior (e.g., aggression toward others). In this study, we conducted the first full test of the MMM as well as expanded the model. Based on research linking aggression and “perceived groupness,” construal items were added assessing whether the rejection was perceived as extending beyond the individual to one's peers. We also included self-harm behavioral responses as this outcome was not sufficiently captured by existing antisocial or asocial operationalizations. This expanded model was then tested with two high school student samples (Ns of 231 and 374) who reported experiencing aggressive rejection (i.e., experienced physical, verbal, relational, or cyber aggression from peers). The MMM was compared to a saturated model separately in each of the two datasets using structural equation modeling. Results indicate that the saturated model provides a better fit for the data than the MMM across all models examined (all p < 0.001). In part, this is due to certain paths having different associations than hypothesized. For example, perceiving the rejection as carrying a higher cost was predicted to promote prosocial behavior, where instead it predicted asocial responses. Perceived groupness was the strongest predictor of antisocial responses. Self-harm outcomes were significantly and consistently associated with higher perceived costs across the models. These results and others will be discussed in the context of how we can better encourage prosocial and discourage antisocial and self-harm responses to social rejection, including bullying. (Publisher Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2021