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The Pain of Social Rejection
By Alejandro Adrian LeMon, PhD News Editor
on June 11, 2011
Social exclusion can cause hurt that is longer lasting than physical pain, based on the findings of a new study at Purdue University.
Social exclusion is an invisible type of bullying that doesn’t leave visible marks, and because of this its impact is often overlooked, according to Professor of psychological sciences Dr. Kipling D Williams. In fact, exclusion from friends, family members, or colleagues can have long term damaging effects.
Researchers studied 5,000 participants using a computer device designed to measure how two or three minutes of social rejection can lead to hurt feelings.
The study identified three stages of social rejection: exclusion, coping and resignation.
During exclusion, the emotional pain is comparable to what people experience when they lose a loved one.
In fact, new studies have shown that the part of the brain that reacts to physical pain becomes active during a break up or rejection.
Williams findings further show that even brief moments of social exclusion can have profound consequences in individuals, both children and adults.
In the second stage, coping can be interpreted as someone trying harder to be included but with limited success.
A good example can be individuals who do extra favors to a boss, or allow abuse by peers with the hope that they will be accepted.
When people feel that that there is little chance of re-inclusion, they might resort to provocations and even aggressive behavior.
According to Williams, the focus of these individuals changes from wanting to be liked to wanting to be noticed.
However, if the social exclusion lasts too long, they might give up their efforts to be appreciated or be acknowledged, said William.
The third stage is known as resignation. People who have been socially rejected become less helpful and more irritable towards others. Overtime, anger and depression increase along with helplessness, low self-esteem and isolation.
Williams’ research attempts to understand how socially rejected individuals become attracted to extremism.
Extreme groups, such as gangs or radical religious groups, provide a refuge to individuals who feel rejected by society. In fact, these groups offer members a sense of care, belonging and acceptance. At the same time, they also foster intolerance and radicalism, which might lead to a higher propensity towards violence. Williams concluded that socially excluded people feel powerless, and aggressiveness is a tool to restore that sense of control.
When a number of these people work together in a group, the outcome is generally poor and negative.