As Lieberman explains, feeling rejected
has definite survival benefits. “Going back 50,000 years, social
distance from a group could lead to death and it still does for most
infant mammals,” Lieberman says. “We may have evolved a sensitivity to
anything that would indicate that we’re being excluded. This automatic
alarm may be a signal for us to re-establish social bonds before harm
When wanting to be accepted back into
the group, the sensible course is to become nicer and more pleasing to
its members. Yet given psychologist Jean Twenge’s recent findings,
published in a paper issued by Case Western Reserve University, we
don’t always function in this logical way.
In Twenge’s research, students reacted
to rejection by immediately displaying antisocial behavior and
increased aggression. They also made fewer attempts to meet new people
and were less cooperative. Such behavior is likely to lead to even
greater rejection and isolation.
“Being rejected is like getting a blow
to the head,” Twenge concludes. “It keeps you from thinking clearly and
makes you act in ways you usually would not behave. You lose
self-control and act impulsively. If intelligent and well-adjusted
university students can respond in lab experiments with antisocial
behaviors, it is disturbing to imagine what might arise from a series
of important rejections in actual social situations.”
It is clear from these studies that we
are designed to be sensitive to rejection. Here’s a call to teachers,
administrators and parents: Notice when someone is being left out or
rejected, because it is essential to make efforts to facilitate
reintegration of that individual in the group.
Dr. Graceffo is a retired psychiatrist and nationally ranked distance runner. His column appears weekly in The New Times.