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Those Who Feel Rejected Direct Hostility Toward Others

Social exclusion linked to aggression found in school shootings, other tragedies

FRIDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Getting the cold shoulder can turn some people into hotheads.

A University of Kentucky study found that people who feel socially rejected are more likely to view other people's actions as hostile and also more likely to behave badly toward other people.

The researchers said their findings may help explain why social exclusion is often linked to aggression that, in some cases, is so extreme it can result in school shootings and other tragedies.

"Prior case studies show the majority of school shooters have experienced peer rejection. And while not everyone who feels rejected reacts violently, we found they tend to act out aggressively in other ways. We wanted to explain psychologically why this happens," study author C. Nathan DeWall said in an American Psychological Association news release.

The study included 190 college students who were given fake feedback about personality tests. In follow-up experiments, students who were told their personalities meant they would probably end up alone later in life tended to lash out at other people.

"Across all experiments, the participants who experienced some form of social rejection acted in similar ways. This suggests these people feel betrayed by others. In turn, they see otherwise neutral actions as hostile and behave badly towards others," DeWall said.

The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Excluded people see the world through blood-colored glasses, and it is our hope that this research can lead to a better understanding of why rejection causes aggression and what we can do to prevent such unwanted and harmful behavior," DeWall said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers teens advice about dealing with anger.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Jan. 21, 2009

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