Throughout time, there have been myriad reasons offered as to why perpetually aggressive people behave as they do, from finding fault in their own name or other minute personal detail, to being the product of a visually violent society, to being subjected to high and sustained levels of stress. While all these may well hold true, and many others may play a key role in explaining aggressive tendencies in humans, a recent study at the University of Kentucky offers substantial evidence to suggest that those who are socially rejected are especially prone to exhibit aggressive behaviors.
Anyone who has at some point experienced rejection by their peers, family members, or a loved one –and that’s most of us– can relate that the feeling isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy sort. But while an isolated or relatively superficial experience of rejection may be easily overcome, large-scale rejection may cause significant psychological distress and result in problems throughout life. The University of Kentucky study focused on this latter, more widespread variety of rejection, presenting some of the nearly two hundred participating students with altered feedback on personality tests (suggesting they would likely live their lives alone and isolated from others), while remaining students were given feedback devoid of such suggestions. Those who were indicated for solitary lives were far more likely to act aggressively, taking neutral or positive statements as hostile, and exhibiting an impulsive, short-fused temper.
The study’s authors, who published their results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this month, hope to further the idea that social rejection can be far more dangerous than commonly realized, not only for those who directly experience it, but for people around them as well. In an environment where such rejection is minimal or obsolete, we can likely count on greater peace and meaningful safety.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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