Justice & Rejection Sensitivity

An interesting topic I ran into while doing research for my final project for a summer course was rejection and justice sensitivity in children with ADHD. Reading scientific articles on this topic was fascinating, as I was able to connect the scientists’ findings to my own experiences, and hopefully, you all are able to make some connections as well.

First, I’m going to introduce some definitions. Justice sensitivity captures differences in an individual’s perceptions of and response to injustice from the perspectives of either a victim, an uninvolved observer, a passive beneficiary, or an active perpetrator. Rejection sensitivity is an individual’s differences in the tendency to expect, perceive, and react to alleged or actual cues of rejection in the social environment.

Now for the interesting stuff. For justice sensitivity, patterns in emotional and behavioral reactions on the perspective from which the justice is perceived:

  1. Victim-sensitive: The individual readily perceives injustice to their own disadvantage, and often react with anger and a desire for retaliation

  2. Observer-sensitive: The individual readily perceives the disadvantage of others, and often react with indignation and a desire to retaliate against the perpetrator to defend the victim

  3. Beneficiary-sensitive: The individual disapproves of injustice to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of others, and often react with feelings of guilt and a desire to compensate the victim

In a study, participants with ADHD showed higher observer and beneficiary justice sensitivity than controls. This was concluded through visible behavioral reaction in an experimental game. Additionally, individuals with the inattentive ADHD subtype showed to have higher sensitivity across all sub-scales of justice sensitivity than those with the hyperactive or combined ADHD subtype and controls. It was also shown that individuals with high impulsiveness may find it more difficult to control their strong desire to retaliate against a perpetrator of injustice and the accompanying anger that’s linked to the high victim sensitivity. This inability to control these strong and powerful emotions enhances the risk of disruptive behavior in individuals with ADHD symptoms. For me, this was super interesting since I’ve often experienced bursts of anger that even I didn’t know the cause of. Now, looking back on those moments, it makes me realize that perhaps this heightened justice sensitivity was the cause of that anger.

Rejection sensitivity is similar to justice sensitivity. It is defined as the tendency to “expect, readily perceive, and overact to rejection.” Individuals who experience higher rejection sensitivity often react unfavorably to received threats of rejection through aggression or social withdrawal. In relation to ADHD, these reactions are a likely result of a self-fulfilling theory of expected and real rejection in parent, peer, and partner relationships. With that, this heightened rejection sensitivity in individuals with ADHD supposedly stems from the fact that they were previously rejected by their parents and/or peers. This repeated rejection results in the individual feeling vulnerable, and therefore, significantly less resilient to its effects. Individuals with ADHD are prone to experiencing rejection, thus making them more prone to have higher rejection sensitivity. Again, I was able to connect a lot of this information to scenarios in my own life, and it was fascinating to make these connections. Do you see yourself in any of these?

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