The Role of Sociotropy and Interpersonal Stress in Suicide

Hae-Joon Kim, Fordham University


Research supports the role of cognitive factors in increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. One cognitive-personality vulnerability factor for psychological distress is sociotropy, defined as the desire for positive attachments with and approval from others, and avoidance of social rejection. Sociotropy has been theorized to consist of three subfactors: concern for what others think, pleasing others, and dependency. Most research on sociotropy focuses on its association with depression; however, the relationship between sociotropy and suicide has been understudied and findings are mixed. This study assessed whether sociotropy (and its subfactors) would be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, whether interpersonal stresses would moderate this relationship, and whether sociotropy would moderate an interaction between thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness on suicidal thoughts. One hundred forty-five participants (M = 24.57 years, SD = 6.19 years) were recruited through Reddit. Most participants indicated a history of suicidality (92% endorsed lifetime suicidal thoughts, 46% endorsed past month suicidal thoughts, 43% endorsed a history of suicide attempts). Sociotropy did not predict suicidal thoughts or attempts, and only the subfactor of pleasing others predicted lifetime suicidal thoughts. Exploratory analyses indicated that dependency negatively predicted past month suicidal thoughts. Stressful interpersonal events did not moderate the relationship between sociotropy and suicidal thoughts or attempts; however, among those with a history of attempts, stressful events moderated the relationship between sociotropy and suicide attempts such that at high levels of stressful events, higher levels of sociotropy were associated with decreased frequency of attempts. The interaction between thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness did not significantly predict suicidal thoughts; however, there was a significant crossover effect in the three-way interaction between thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and sociotropy on lifetime suicidal thoughts. Although hypotheses were only partially supported, the findings suggest that contrary to the literature on sociotropy and depression, there may be a more complex relationship between sociotropy and suicide risk whereby sociotropy moderates the relationship between other interpersonal risk factors and suicide. In addition, the findings indicate that sociotropy is comprised of multiple factors that may be differentially related to suicide, as well as other negative outcomes.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Kim, Hae-Joon, "The Role of Sociotropy and Interpersonal Stress in Suicide" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI22582932.