Study of socially rejected boys

iStock_000016363496XSmallA recent study in the Netherlands corroborates previous research in the U.S. on socially rejected children. Understanding why children are rejected by their peers and what types of children remain ostracized is important because previous research indicates that psychologically troubled adults often have histories of poor peer relations in childhood. This recent study by Antonius H.N. Cillessen, Hendrik W. van Ijzendoorn, Cornelis F.M. van Lieshout, University of Nijmegen; and Willard W. Hartup, University of Minnesota, found that among boys, the most common reason for not liking someone was aggression or disruptiveness.

Forty-eight percent of boys identified as unliked were described as aggressive, impulsive, disruptive and uncooperative. Moreover, these unliked boys generally did not even like boys who liked them. Aggressive boys were much more likely to continue to be unpopular a year later.

Of the remaining 52 percent of unpopular boys, 13 percent were described as shy. Although better controlled than the aggressive ones, these shy children tended to be uncooperative and also showed no evidence of liking children who liked them. Shyness was also associated with loneliness, poor self-esteem and depression. The other 39 percent did not differ significantly in behavior from their socially accepted peers. However, they demonstrated social values that led their peers to classify them as either “goody-goodies” or “sour apples”, which made them, at least temporarily, unpopular.

There is great variability among students who are socially rejected. Evidence suggests that impulsive and disruptive behavior in primary-age boys is central to being disliked and that aggressive behavior is the most likely to lead to long-term rejection and possible future psychological problems. This group of rejected children is of particular concern because it represents the largest and most stable subgroup of socially rejected students. However, approximately forty percent of students identified as socially rejected in this study did not appear very different from their peers and their social ostracism was often temprary.

“Heterogeneity Among Peer-Rejected Boys: Subtypes and Stabilities”, Child Development, August 1992, Volume 63, pp. 893-905.

Published in ERN January/February 1993, Volume 6, Number 1.

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