The Unexpected Effects of Rejection

New research has found that the movies often get it wrong when they show a person getting rejected by someone attractive, then falling willingly into the arms of someone less attractive.

In fact, a new study has found that being rejected by an attractive man actually led women to socially distance themselves from an unattractive man, even when he offered acceptance.

“We hadn’t expected to see derogation of the unattractive male when women had been rejected by the attractive male,” said psychologist Dr. Geoff MacDonald from the University of Toronto, lead author of the new study. “But when we replicated the study, the effect was still there.”

MacDonald studies social exclusion, an area of research that has generally assumed that acceptance is the goal after rejection. But he said his new study turns that on its head.

“What people want is not immediate acceptance, per se, but a sense of assurance that the person is acceptable to the sorts of people they want to be connected to,” he explained.

The study sought to replicate real-world dating scenarios in a lab. The researchers told women they would have the opportunity to meet two male participants after evaluating these men’s dating profiles. The women first wrote profiles about themselves and then viewed the profiles of the men, along with photos, one of whom was more attractive.

“The woman, thinking the men have read her profile, then got feedback as to whether the men would like to meet her,” MacDonald said. “We randomly assigned the women to either acceptance or rejection from the attractive man, as well as acceptance or rejection from the unattractive man.”

The women then indicated if they wanted to meet each man and rate them.

The researchers used attractiveness as a measure of social value, based on a large volume of literature backing the idea that in forming a relationship, attractiveness is a highly valued attribute.

“For example, in one speed dating study, regardless of what speed daters said they were looking for, one of the strongest predictors of interest was physical attractiveness,” he  noted.

In the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers discovered that not only did the women who were rejected derogate those men but they also rejected the unattractive men, even if they offered acceptance.

A possible reason for this effect is that “being affiliated with an unattractive man would make those women feel like that’s the kind of man they ‘deserve,’ which puts their larger social goals at risk,” MacDonald explained.

He notes that the study is important as it sheds light on situations that may cause antisocial behavior; for example, studies that have shown that rejection can lead to aggression.

“Sometimes undermining immediate acceptance may be exactly the goal when that acceptance comes from someone you don’t want to be identified with,” he said.

Source: Sage Publications