- 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,
Columbine, involved rejection by peers,'' Twenge said. "This research
suggests that social rejection may have played a crucial role in the
perpetrated by the school shooters.''
- The researchers performed a series of experiments in
which undergraduate students, divided into pairs of two, completed
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
applying for a competitive job as a research assistant.
- Students who were told that the scores from their
tests indicated that they would "end up alone later in life,'' and
that their essay was "one of the worst'' the reader had read,
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
the authors write in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and
- 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
- In a separate series of experiments, Twenge's team
how rejection affected aggression. Students participated in a group
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
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
loud noise--the researchers attempted to make their conclusions applicable
to the school shootings and other violent behaviors observed outside the
- 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
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
- "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
- SOURCE: Journal of
and Social Psychology
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