Assessing the relationship between early maladaptive schemas and interpersonal problems using interpersonal scenarios depicting rejection

PLoS One. 2023 Oct 24;18(10):e0288543. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0288543. eCollection 2023.


Background: Early maladaptive schemas (EMSs) have been theorised to contribute to reoccurring interpersonal problems. This study developed a novel experimental paradigm that aimed to assess if EMSs moderate the impact of interpersonal situations on interpersonal responses by manipulating the degree of rejection in a series of interpersonal vignettes depicting acceptance, ambiguous rejection and rejection.

Method: In a sample of 158 first-year psychology students (27.2% male; 72.2% female; 0.6% other) participant responses to interpersonal scenarios were measured including degree of perceived rejection, emotional distress, conviction in varying cognitive appraisals consistent with attribution theory and behavioural responses to scenarios. Qualitative data was analysed using inductive content analysis and statistical analyses were conducted using multi-level mixed effect linear and logistic regression models using the software Jamovi.

Results: People reporting higher EMSs reported increased emotional distress (F(1, 156) = 24.85, p < .001), perceptions of rejection (F(1, 156) = 34.33, p < .001), self-blame (F(1, 156) = 53.25, p < .001), other-blame (F(1, 156) = 13.16, p < .001) and more intentional (F(1, 156) = 9.24, p = .003), stable (F(1, 156) = 25.22, p < .001) and global (F(1, 156) = 19.55, p < .001) attributions but no differences in reported behavioural responses. The results also supported that EMSs moderate the relationship between interpersonal rejection and perceptions of rejection (F(2, 1252) = 18.43, p < .001), emotional distress (F(2, 1252) = 12.64, p < .001) and self-blame (F(2, 1252) = 14.00, p < .001).

Conclusion: Together these findings suggest that people with EMSs experience increased distress and select negative cognitions in situations where there are higher levels of rejection but that distress and negative cognitions are generally higher in people with EMSs irrespective of the situation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Social Perception
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grants and funding

This research has been conducted with the support of the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.