Rejection By Peers May
Lead To Violent Behavior
By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For years researchers have debated whether social exclusion and rejection caused aggressiveness or resulted from it. Now new study findings, as well as anecdotal evidence from the recent series of school shootings across America, suggest that social exclusion or rejection may indeed lead to aggressive behavior, as well as violence.
"Thus, children who might not have been aggressive otherwise will often become aggressive after they have been rejected by their peers,'' lead study author Dr. Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University in California told Reuters Health.
"Almost all of the school shooting incidents, including Columbine, involved rejection by peers,'' Twenge said. "This research suggests that social rejection may have played a crucial role in the violence perpetrated by the school shooters.''
The researchers performed a series of experiments in which undergraduate students, divided into pairs of two, completed personality questionnaires and essays. The students arbitrarily received bogus negative or positive feedback on both their personality tests and their essays, but were told that the essays were evaluated by their respective partners. Each individual was then asked to evaluate their partner, who was supposedly applying for a competitive job as a research assistant.
Students who were told that the scores from their personality tests indicated that they would "end up alone later in life,'' and that their essay was "one of the worst'' the reader had read, reciprocated by giving their partners an extremely low rating--an average 26 on a scale of 10 to 100, the researchers report.
"Anticipating a lonely future made people sharply more harsh and aggressive toward someone who had recently criticized them,'' the authors write in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In contrast, students who received negative feedback about their essay but were told that they would either have ''rewarding relationships throughout life,'' or that they were ''likely to be accident prone later in life,'' gave their partners a more neutral rating.
However, those who were told they had written very good essays tended to reciprocate by giving their partners high ratings, even when they were given negative predictions about their future, the researchers report.
In a separate series of experiments, Twenge's team measured how rejection affected aggression. Students participated in a group "get acquainted'' exercise, and were then asked to choose the two people they would want to work with on an individual basis. Half of the students were then told that no one wanted to work with them; the rest were told everyone wanted to work with them.
The researchers then had the students play a computer game, in which the winner was able to blast the loser with unpleasant noise. The students were told they were playing against another person, but in fact the computer was mimicking the response of another player.
By giving the students a weapon that could hurt someone--the loud noise--the researchers attempted to make their conclusions applicable to the school shootings and other violent behaviors observed outside the laboratory.
The rejected students exhibited more aggression than their peers, study findings indicate. They tended to blast noise that was of a higher intensity and longer duration, even when they were told it would not be directed towards the individuals who rejected them from the group assignment, the researchers note.
"Even innocent bystanders are targets of the aggression of rejected people,'' Twenge said. "This is very similar to the school shootings, in which the perpetrators marched into their schools and killed innocent people who had nothing to do with the rejection.''
In light of the findings, Twenge stressed the need for adults to intervene when they see students being bullied, rejected, or cruelly teased.
"Although the rejected child should be taught not to be aggressive, it is also important to start at the source and try to emphasize to children how much bullying and cruel teasing hurts,'' Twenge said.
SOURCE: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
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