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Research explores the complicated nature of rejection and retaliation

Research explores the complicated nature of rejection and retaliation

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Women and social exclusion: The complicated nature of rejection and retaliation
Credit: Negar Nikkhah (Unsplash)

New research from the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) has provided a complicated glance into young women’s responses to interpersonal conflict, with retaliation often the answer to rejection and perceived social exclusion by other females.

The study, published inScientific Reports, highlights the complicated nature of women’s interpersonal relationships by examining the stress arising from rejection, and if the personal characteristics of those imposing the rejection influences women’s social pain.

uOttawa professor Tracy Vaillancourt’s past research showed social status was afforded to young women based on attractiveness and cruelty (think “Mean Girls”). This made her wonder if being rejected by women with these features would hurt more than being rejected by women without these features. These questions led her to delve into the neurological and behavioral underpinnings of peer rejection.

The study provoked rejection in 87 young women via social exclusion using Cyberball, a virtual computer ball-tossing game in which participants play against pretend players. Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to assess social pain.

“Given that women who hold more power tend to be attractive and mean, we expected that women would be most hurt by being rejected by women with these attributes,” explains Vaillancourt, whose previous research in the field has focused on women’s interpersonal relationships.

What Vaillancourt and her team discovered was surprising.

“Contrary to our prediction, participants were most bothered by being rejected by unattractive unfriendly women,” says Vaillancourt, who offered this may have to do with participants being offended by being rejected by women they thought were less attractive than them. Although this finding was unexpected, the women’s retaliation against attractive women was expected. Specifically, women only debased their attractiveness ratings of pretty, mean women.

“It’s interesting that the participants did not like being rejected by the unattractive unfriendly women and yet they did not punish them for their exclusionary behavior. Rather, they went after the so-called alpha, lowering their attractiveness rating of her,” says Vaillancourt, professor from Counselling Psychology in the Faculty of Education, who is also a Canada Research Chair in School-Based Mental Health and Violence Prevention.

“The findings speak to the complexities of women’s interactions. Women are very sensitive to cues of social rejection, and this sensitivity has kept us alive. The neural alarm of not belonging has encouraged our ancestors to cooperate and fit in. This is a good thing. The issue, however, is that women are far more sensitive to these cues than men and this causes them distress when they feel or anticipate being excluded.”

Vaillancourt adds the ubiquity of social exclusion as an aggression tactic used by women and its pointed emotional and physiological impact demands more research on this topic.

More information:
Tracy Vaillancourt et al, Behavioral and neural responses to social exclusion in women: the role of facial attractiveness and friendliness, Scientific Reports (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-024-65833-4

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University of Ottawa


Citation:
Women and social exclusion: Research explores the complicated nature of rejection and retaliation (2024, July 11)
retrieved 11 July 2024
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