- CLEVELAND - Seeing rejection
as a common thread in school shootings across the country, CWRU
undertook experiments to see if rejection in the lab produced aggression.
"Rejection does cause aggression," says Jean Twenge. "Being
rejected is like getting a blow to the head. It keeps you from thinking
clearly and makes you act in ways you usually would not behave. You lose
self control and act impulsively," she adds.
- The researchers found that college students, primed for
rejection, showed a greater range of antisocial behaviors, such as
aggression against someone who insulted them, less attempts to meet new
people, less willingness to cooperate with the group or help others, or
against someone they do not know.
- Twenge is the lead researcher on the rejection study,
"If You Can't Join Them, Beat Them: The Effects of Social Exclusion
on Aggressive Behavior." Other researchers are Roy Baumeister and
Dianne Tice, CWRU professors of psychology, and Tanja Stucke from the
of Giessen in Germany.
- "Very little research is available on what happens
to people when they feel rejected. Humans have evolved into creatures
to form stable, lasting relationships with others. This is deeply embedded
in the culture," notes Twenge, who undertook the research while a
National Institute of Health Research Fellow at CWRU during the past two
years. She is now on the faculty at San Diego State University.
- Pointing to the 1998 Statistical Abstract of the United
States, which reports that the number of people living alone increased
from 13 percent in 1960 to 25 percent in 1997, Twenge says she sees a
between living alone and a rise of antisocial behaviors as people marry
later, move away from their nuclear families, or divorce.
- Recreating rejection in the psychology lab, Twenge wanted
to investigate if rejection and exclusion would lead to aggressive
- Two lab experiments focused on outright rejection. The
study's participants met with a group of people and were asked to write
with whom they would like to collaborate from the group of people they
just met. Some of the participants were told no one wanted to work with
them as part of the group.
- Then they played a game with a person they had not met
before, and the winner was able to blast the loser with an unpleasant
The winner could set the noise for its intensity or duration -- similar
to someone wielding a weapon, according to Twenge. The rejected group
chose a higher intensity and longer duration of noise to wage against their
opponent when they lost.
- In other experiments, the psychologists paired or grouped
students, then had them take personality tests and write essays on a
political topic. Each participant was randomly assigned to hear one of
three future predictions: that they would spend their futures alone
by others), beset with misfortunes (face upsets in life but still connected
socially), or belonging (the control group). In two control groups, one
was accident-prone with a negative life outcome, and the other group had
no feedback about accidents or information about future events.
- After being told the other person had evaluated their
essays (when in fact they received bogus positive or negative information
about the essays), the students were asked to evaluate the other person
for a job position. Students who were told they received negative feedback
on the essays rated the job seeker negatively.
- The researchers also tested whether rejection produced
bad moods or aggression in the students. "The effect of rejection
and social exclusion appeared to bypass mood and go straight to producing
antisocial behavior," says Twenge. Those with predicted future
of being alone gave the most negative job evaluations.
- Following all the experiments, the students were
and did not leave the lab until they understood that they were randomly
assigned evaluations on acceptance or rejection. Rejection becomes a
cycle. "The logical thinking is that if you are rejected, the thing
to do is to be nicer, but the subjects aren't," says Twenge.
- "While our study did not prove this theory wrong,
it did support the opposite conclusion," explains Twenge. "The
results suggest that social exclusion led to a marked increase in
toward the issuer of an insult."
- Twenge adds that people do not like to associate with
people who are aggressive and exhibit behavior that is harmful and
"Exclusion from the group -- or even just hearing a forecast about
being left out of relationships in some distant future -- appears to
antisocial behavior," says Twenge.
- "If intelligent and well-adjusted university
can respond in lab experiments with antisocial behaviors," Twenge
says, "it is disturbing to imagine what might arise from a series
of important rejections in actual social situations."
- Note: This story has been adapted from a news release
issued by Case Western Reserve University for journalists and other members
of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please
credit Case Western Reserve University as the original source. You may
also wish to include the following link in any citation:
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