Children who experience chronic rejection and exclusion by their parents can become more sensitive to social exclusion later on in life and suffer the effects for a longer period of time.
How do you measure ���exclusion�۪ in a lab?
Van Harmelen and colleagues investigated whether young adults who have suffered emotional abuse as a child are indeed more sensitive to social exclusion. The participants played two computer games with other players via the internet. In the first game the participants were involved in the game by the other players and were allowed to join in. But during the second game the participants were expressly denied access by the other players and were excluded. The reactions in the brain and feelings of the participants in the first game (participation) were then compared with the reactions during the second game (exclusion).
Over-sensitive to social exclusion in adulthood
The research showed that exclusion leads to a drop in mood and self-esteem in all the participants. Van Harmelen: ���We also discovered that people who suffered extreme emotional abuse as a child do not experience social exclusion as more severe than those who have had less experience of abuse in their youth. However, it did appear that participants from the first group suffered the effects of the exclusion for longer; they felt upset for longer.�۪
More brain activity during social exclusion in adulthood
At the level of the brain, it appears that the more serious the emotional abuse has been, the more visible the brain activity becomes in the part of the brain that regulates emotions and responds to stress. It also plays an important role in how we reflect on ourselves and on others. Van Harmelen: ���We now know that social exclusion leads to increased negative thinking about yourself and others; it increases feelings of social insecurity, instills fear and fosters anxiety. Increased activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex in people who have been emotionally abused in their youth could indicate that social exclusion leads to the generation of more negative thoughts about yourself and others. This seems to be in line with earlier research in which we found that adults who have been emotionally abused as a child tend to think more often and more negatively about themselves and about others.�۪
Thinking negatively about yourself and others
Negative thoughts about yourself and about others play an important role in the development and continuation of psychopathology. Such thoughts can evoke and intensify negative feelings or thoughts in new situations as well as having a negative effect on memories. These in turn can lead to more frequent and intensified negative interpersonal experiences. Van Harmelen: ��� Our research suggests that negative interpersonal experiences, such as exclusion, in turn, lead to intensified negative thinking about yourself and others. People who have been emotionally abused in their youth are then caught in a downward spiral. They become susceptible to developing psychological disorders.�۪ This is the subject of an online publication on the website Plos One by Anne-Laure van Harmelen and her Leiden University colleagues.