Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci.  2012 Dec;10(3):144-154. 10.9758/cpn.2012.10.3.144.

Are You Being Rejected or Excluded? Insights from Neuroimaging Studies Using Different Rejection Paradigms

  • 1Division of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom.


Rejection sensitivity is the heightened tendency to perceive or anxiously expect disengagement from others during social interaction. There has been a recent wave of neuroimaging studies of rejection. The aim of the current review was to determine key brain regions involved in social rejection by selectively reviewing neuroimaging studies that employed one of three paradigms of social rejection, namely social exclusion during a ball-tossing game, evaluating feedback about preference from peers and viewing scenes depicting rejection during social interaction. Across the different paradigms of social rejection, there was concordance in regions for experiencing rejection, namely dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), subgenual ACC and ventral ACC. Functional dissociation between the regions for experiencing rejection and those for emotion regulation, namely medial prefrontal cortex, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and ventral striatum, was evident in the positive association between social distress and regions for experiencing rejection and the inverse association between social distress and the emotion regulation regions. The paradigms of social exclusion and scenes depicting rejection in social interaction were more adept at evoking rejection-specific neural responses. These responses were varyingly influenced by the amount of social distress during the task, social support received, self-esteem and social competence. Presenting rejection cues as scenes of people in social interaction showed high rejection sensitive or schizotypal individuals to under-activate the dorsal ACC and VLPFC, suggesting that such individuals who perceive rejection cues in others down-regulate their response to the perceived rejection by distancing themselves from the scene.


Social distance; Gyrus cinguli; Prefrontal cortex; Social support

MeSH Terms

Basal Ganglia
Dissociative Disorders
Gyrus Cinguli
Interpersonal Relations
Mental Competency
Prefrontal Cortex
Rejection (Psychology)
Social Distance
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