Netherlands researchers at Utrecht University recently “found that some children are more likely than others to lash out in response to acute peer rejection: children who already feel like outcasts” (Science Daily). The results of the study are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Perhaps saying that alienated youth are more likely to lash out than are youth that are generally accepted by their peers is stating the obvious, but it is important to face aggression and bullying directly. Utrecht University’s researchers believed there might be “something to alienation that increases aggression” and created an Internet contest called “Survivor” to test children’s degrees of alienation and corresponding aggression.
The contest was fake; it never went live on the web. The study included 121 children between the ages of 10 and 13. Each child created an online profile that would allegedly be uploaded onto the “Survivor” website alongside the child’s picture. Eight children from other schools acted as judges and wrote feedback for students. While some children received mostly positive feedback, some had mostly negative feedback, including statements like, “This person does not seem fun to hang out with.”
After reviewing the feedback they received from judges, the children were able “to choose how much money each judge would get, and to write comments about the judges.” Students who received negative feedback and were rejected by their peers “were more likely to act aggressively toward judges – taking away money from them and/or writing comments like ‘this person is fat and mean.’” Students “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.’”
Researchers closed the study with a session during which they explained to the children that the judges and their mean comments were fake. They discussed with the children positive social experiences they recently had and then gave them a present.
Curbing bullying is as simple – or as difficult – as helping children not to feel like outcasts. Children, particularly those with learning disabilities, are likely to feel different from and/or excluded by others. A child in your life with a learning disability is a child for whom you should strive to facilitate positive, validating social experiences, perhaps even more so than for a child without a learning disability. Children with learning disabilities are also at risk to experience depression. As demonstrated by Utrecht University’s research, bad peer experiences can lead children to lash out aggressively, likely causing further alienation. Help the child in your life with a learning disability feel accepted and valuable to reduce the chance that he or she may develop unhealthy tendencies to act aggressively toward others.