Sticks and Stones – AND Words … The Brain Science of Social Rejection

Kipling D. Williams, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University developed a game called Cyberball, in which research subjects engage in a simple game of 3-way toss. A Functional MRI captures images of the subjects’ brain activity during the game. After a few rounds, the avatar players begin to toss the ball back and forth without including the subject – and guess what happens? The subject reports feeling ostracized and rejected, and the FMRI lights up with activity in the very same brain region where we register physical pain (the anterior cingulate cortex)!

The human brain evolved to ensure safety; we are not a very fast or a particularly strong species – so our ability to connect and collaborate with others has been critical to our survival. Acceptance within groups ensured access to food, shelter, a mate … So our brains tend to be hypersensitive to ostracism, responding – as though to physical danger – with spikes in cortisol.

Social rejection in childhood causes more than superficial and momentary discomfort – In fact, it can have long-term negative impacts on physical and mental health. Studies show that social rejection increases anxiety and depression, causes spikes in blood pressure, and impairs the immune system. The impact on academic achievement can be catastrophic also – children who are subjected to social rejection at school cannot activate the necessary executive functions for memory and learning because their limbic systems are on high alert.

What can schools do about this?

Prevention:

– Create caring, inclusive, communities

– Teach social skills and TEACH EMPATHY (more on this coming soon)

Vigilance:

– Regularly assess overall connectedness

– Notice exclusionary social dynamics when they first emerge

Intervention:

– Use restorative and educational responses

– Silent Mentoring / Peer Mentoring

Share your own ideas and best practices!!

social inclusion

One response

  1. Reblogged this on Hilltop Preschool and commented:
    Should we not teach humanity first and foremost? A child who learns early how to navigate the world of feelings and dissonance is equipped with the resilience necessary to forge a road through all life’s challenges, including academics.

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