Peer exclusion among children results in reduced classroom participation and academic achievement

May be as harmful as bullying

Children who are excluded from activities by their peers are more likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically, according to a recent study in the Journal of Educational Psychology published by the American Psychological Association (APA)

A longitudinal study, conducted over a five-year period following 380 students from age 5-years old to 11-years old, found that children who are rejected by their peers have more trouble engaging in school activities than children who are not rejected by their peers. This kind of rejection can increase the likelihood that children are victimized or excluded by peers and impair a child's ability to interact with other children, participate in classroom activities and participate in the social context of the classroom. It can result in long-term maladjustment that may endure throughout a child's school years.

Despite the recent emphasis that has been placed on bullying and victimization in school children," exclusion, although not as visible as verbal or physical forms of abuse, may be particularly detrimental to children's participation in many school activities," said lead author Eric Buhs, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska. Relative to other types of peer relationships, peer group rejection appeared to be one of the strongest predictors of a child's likely or unlikely success in academics. Those children who suffered rejection were more likely to avoid school and were less engaged in the classroom setting." Once children experience this kind of maltreatment or rejection from their peers, they avoid most classroom peer activities," added Dr. Buhs.

"Children become less active participants in classroom activities because their opportunities to do so are increasingly restricted as a result of peer exclusion. Children who are harassed (picked on or teased) or excluded from activities by peers tend to try to avoid classrooms (and school) as a means of escaping further abuse," said Buhs.

While conventional wisdom tells us that socially withdrawn children tend to be victimized and/or excluded by peers, this study found that rejection more strongly and consistently predicted peer abuse and exclusion. The research findings also showed that students who were rejected may begin devaluing peer interaction activities and avoiding peer and classroom activities.

The findings from this research are consistent with the premise that peer abuse and peer exclusion function as distinct forms of peer maltreatment that have unique effects on children's engagement and adjustment patterns. This study raises the issue that physical or verbal bullying is not the only harmful form of peer maltreatment. While the study did not test specific interventions, the results indicate that future researchers may want to closely examine the role of peer exclusion and explore possible ways of countering the negative effects of this form of peer maltreatment.


Article: "Peer Exclusion and Victimization: Processes That Mediate the Relation Between Peer Group Rejection and Children's Classroom Engagement and Achievement," Eric Buhs, University of Nebraska; Gary Ladd and Sarah Herald, Arizona State University; Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol.98 No.1

Eric Buhs can be reached by email at [email protected] or by telephone at (402) 472-6948.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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