Alienated youths are more likely to lash out

October 8, 2010, Association for Psychological Science

When people are rejected by peers, they often lash out. In children, that aggression occasionally takes horrifying directions, leading to school shootings or other deadly acts. Researchers in the Netherlands found that some children are more likely than others to lash out in response to acute peer rejection: children who already feel like outcasts.

"It was inspired by the fact that we had these school shootings and wondered what the most important feature of these kids could be," says Albert Reijntjes of Utrecht University, who cowrote the study with five other psychological scientists. "In discussing it with colleagues, the alienation concept came up; maybe there is something to alienation that increases ."

The researchers recruited students in two or three classes at each of three Dutch schools; 121 students aged 10 to 13 took part in the study. Each child was told they were playing an Internet contest called "Survivor"—a fake contest for the study. Each child completed a personal profile to be allegedly uploaded to the website alongside their picture. Then they were given time to look over the feedback they received from eight judges, from other schools. Some of the children received mostly positive feedback; some had mostly negative feedback, like, "This person does not seem fun to hang out with."

Finally, the child had a chance to choose how much money each judge would get, and to write comments about the judges.

Students who had been rejected were more likely to act aggressively toward judges—taking away money from them and/or writing comments like "this person is fat and mean." They were even more aggressive if they'd scored high on a measure of alienation—agreeing with statements like, "Hardly anyone I know is interested in how I really feel inside." The results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The experiment ended with a thorough debriefing session, where the researchers explained the project and that the judges and their mean comments were fake. To round it off, "We talk at length about a recent positive social experience they have had and they get a present," Reijntjes says. "So far, that has always been successful in not getting crying kids."

"When you're an outcast, you're more likely to lash out aggressively when faced with bad peer experiences," says Reijntjes. "Although we examined "normal" aggression in a community sample, the findings shed light on factors involved in the more dramatic acts of aggression such as school shootings." Maybe part of the solution is to help children not to feel like outcasts; he says it could be useful to look out for children who feel alienated and design interventions that help them feel part of the group.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Researchers uncover novel mechanism behind schizophrenia

February 21, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientist has uncovered a novel mechanism in which a protein—neuregulin 3—controls how key neurotransmitters are released ...

Self-compassion may protect people from the harmful effects of perfectionism

February 21, 2018
Relating to oneself in a healthy way can help weaken the association between perfectionism and depression, according to a study published February 21, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian ...

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom, study finds

February 21, 2018
How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

When it comes to our brains, there's no such thing as normal

February 20, 2018
There's nothing wrong with being a little weird. Because we think of psychological disorders on a continuum, we may worry when our own ways of thinking and behaving don't match up with our idealized notion of health. But ...

Jymmin: How a combination of exercise and music helps us feel less pain

February 20, 2018
Pain is essential for survival. However, it could also slow the progress of rehabilitation, or in its chronic form could become a distinct disorder. How strongly we feel it, among other factors, depends on our individual ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

IDMclean
not rated yet Oct 08, 2010
"Maybe part of the solution is to help children not to feel like outcasts; he says it could be useful to look out for children who feel alienated and design interventions that help them feel part of the group."
Please don't. The first part's good. Dealing with the emotional issues of people is desirable, but the second part's likely to ruin the first part.

If you've been pegged as an outsider by the group in the first place, a teacher or administrator pushing you into the pack merely frustrates the issue and allows further opportunities for alienation.

If you're going to try and facilitate group building among outsiders, you're going to need to form inclusive groups that accept the outsiders. Game play can help the process.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.