Study Suggests Aggression and Rejection are Closely Linked

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Austin


    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    This same kind of story was just shown on the Dr. Phil show a few days ago! A woman who was bullied and rejected in high school has now gone on to experience serious rage issues in her life as an adult. Did anyone else see this?

  • Kalli


    February 4th, 2009 at 6:20 AM

    This makes so much sense. This is just another form of abuse (rejection) that people experience- of course it is going to come out and manifest itself in ways that are unhealthy. If I had experienced this same kind of rejection in my past I might also be an agressive person too. What I find interesting though is that there are probably just as many others who have experienced this but have become very meek and mild mannered instead. I wonder what kinds of internal factors there might be to signify who is going to take it out on others and who is going to turn inward and take it out on themsleves ? Maybe alot of this would be determined by what they saw at home growing up and how others in their families may have coped with the same things.

  • Jackie


    February 5th, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    Don’t you remember being rejected in the past by a boyfriend and being so sad at first and then afterwards getting so mad that you could have chewed a nail in half? I have experienced that kind of anger over being rejected before so I cannot even imagine how I would feel if I had ever been in a situation where this rejection was constant and ongoing. I could have probably torn doors from their hinges. I completely understand that feeling of rage that you get when you realize how coldly someone has treated you. I am lucky in that I have friends and family who always seem to be able to help me keep my head on straight.

  • Kyle


    February 12th, 2009 at 3:38 AM

    As a child I experienced a lot of rejection from both of my parents due to the fact that I really don’t think they wanted kids, but oops. Anyway I know that I held this fear and feeling of rejection inside for so long that when it can time for me to connect with women in relationships I did not have the know how to make that happen. And then I would get angry because I had no idea what was going on inside causing that divide. I have been in therapy for a while now to deal with this but it is so hard to overcome what you have known your whole life. I am still not in a successful relationship and now I am afraid that I never will be. It is hard not to continue to blame my parents for rejecting me and not teaching me how to love.

  • Leo


    February 23rd, 2009 at 8:02 PM

    All of us have experienced rejection and isolation in varied degrees in our relationships in life. The key however is whether it takes place in adulthood or in the formative years. The scars inflicted emotionally in children take a very long time to heal and in some remain forever hidden or manifested in some way or the other. My neighbour was a victim of abuse by her dad and uncle. She is very weird in a lot of ways today and I believe it comes from an imbalanced childhood. We can do our part however to prevent aggression in young people. If we know someone is being abused we can step in on a pretext of using their phone or throw a ball across their fence. Letting the arbitrator know that you are aware of their moves makes a difference to the victim.

  • Kiera


    February 27th, 2009 at 6:33 AM

    I believe that although I am married to a wonderful man, whenever arguments crop up I become furious and feel like I dont belong in the life I live. Somewhere deep inside me I believe I still yearn for the guy I loved and lost. I feel that part of me comes up and I am consumed with rage and hate. I dont know why this happens but I sense this is the reason why.

  • Rihaana


    February 28th, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    I hate my dad for leaving my mom and remarrying. He has always tried to be a good dad though. I dont get along with him at all and I feel like I never will. I cant bring myself to forgiving him and we have a lot of conflict in our relationship.

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