Social anxiety (SA) and depression are prevalent, often comorbid disorders, associated with poor psychosocial functioning. Experimental psychopathology approaches can clarify the transdiagnostic mechanisms underlying these disorders, but most laboratory tasks are limited. We developed and validated the Audio-Dialogue Inductions of Social Stress (A-DISS) experimental task to model real-time rejection sensitivity in a realistic and developmentally relevant context. Participants are asked to imagine overhearing peers at a party talking badly about them (Rejection) or a teacher at their school (Neutral).
Study 1 focused on identifying and refining stimuli that elicited relevant emotional responses for Rejection (e.g., increased anxiety) and Neutral (e.g., no emotional changes) conditions (N = 48). Study 2 examined whether participants’ SA and depression symptoms moderated the effects of A-DISS condition (N = 52).
The Rejection condition elicited higher negative affect/lower positive affect while the Neutral condition sustained stable affect. Findings were consistent across gender and race/ethnicity. Moderation analyses were statistically significant; participants with elevated SA or depression reported feeling more rejected, insecure, and anxious after Rejection than those with below average symptoms.
Findings provide preliminary validation of a novel peer rejection task for research on understanding the affective experience of real-time rejection overall, especially for those with elevated SA and depression. SA and depression symptoms each uniquely moderating the effects of Rejection exposure on similar affective states, suggests individuals with SA or depression may benefit from interventions targeting specific reactions to rejection/stress and transdiagnostic risk factors.