June 13, 2024

If you’d rather spend an evening in your pyjamas than go to the office Christmas party, you can breath a sigh of relief: researchers say hosts tend to be more understanding about rejections than anticipated.

Researchers in the US have found that while people are often concerned that turning down an invitation will upset the host, and lead to fewer invitations in the future, their fears tend to be exaggerated.

“While it might seem like all the inviter will consider is the fact that you declined, they will likely consider much more, making the negative ramifications less severe than you think,” the authors write.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved five experiments involving more than 2,000 participants.

In the first experiment, 382 online participants were split into two groups. One group was asked to read an invitation from a hypothetical friend to an exhibit at a local museum that weekend, and imagine declining by explaining they just wanted to stay home and relax. Some participants were told they were the only person invited, while others were told multiple invitations were given.

Those invited were then asked to rate on a scale how severe they thought the potential ramifications would be, including how angry they thought the host would be, how much the host would think they didn’t care about them, and to what degree they thought the rejection would lead to fewer invitations in the future.

The other group were asked to pretend they were the host, and rate how they would feel about a rejection.

The results revealed that regardless of the number of people participants were told had been invited, those declining the invitation tended to rate anticipated outcomes as more negative than hosts, both in terms of how the host would feel and whether the rejection would lead to fewer invitations – or the host rejecting invitations from them.

“Across our experiments, we consistently found that invitees overestimate the negative ramifications that arise in the eyes of inviters following an invitation decline,” said Dr Julian Givi, lead author of the study at West Virginia University.

Indeed the team found the findings held even when the host and invitee were in a real-life relationship.

However another experiment revealed participants’ concerns over declining an invitation fell when they first had their own invitation rejected by someone else.

In further scenarios the team gauged how participants acting as third-party observers would expect a rejection to be taken, and explored to what extent a host would, or would be expected to, focus on the rejection itself versus the invitees’ deliberations behind it.

The results suggest concerns over rejecting invitations are not driven by an inflated sense of self-importance, or thoughts about future invitations, but are down to people thinking a host would focus more on the rejection than the reasonings involved.

The team say the findings have real-world implications.

“Our studies suggest that the negative ramifications of invitation declines are not as bad as invitees think,” the team write, “and that they likely could pass on more invitations than they currently do.”

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