Prof. Downey's main interest is the study of personal and status based rejection. In her current work, she is exploring people's expectations of rejection and their impact on the perception of other people's behavior, in anticipation of and following social encounters.
Her work has focused on the personality disposition of rejection sensitivity (RS) and on its association with responses to rejection as well as efforts made to prevent it. This line of work has led her to study sensitivity to rejection based on personal, unique characteristics, as well as sensitivity to rejection based on group characteristics such as race and gender. She has sought to investigate the effect of rejection sensitivity on people's behavior by utilizing various techniques including established social cognition paradigms, experimental studies, physiological recordings, brain-imaging and diary studies.
Recently, Dr. Downey has been using the knowledge acquired from her research on rejection to develop models of personality and attachment disorders. She has also been interested in the study of identity, specifically on the way in which individuals use their multiple social identities strategically to cope with daily stressors.