U of T researchers delve into the psychology of romantic rejection

Rejection is inevitable when it comes to dating. Peter Scholey/Getty Images

TORONTO — Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That’s the gist of a new study out of the University of Toronto that focuses on rejection and social exclusion, which researchers say is linked to both our emotional and physical well-being.

“A number of studies have come out showing that, for example, social isolation and loneliness is as big of a risk factor for your physical health and mortality as smoking is,” explains researcher Geoff MacDonald.

In the latest research on the subject, MacDonald, along with two others, studied straight female university students in a simulated online dating situation involving both an “attractive” and “unattractive” man. For the sake of the experiment, the men’s attraction level was determined before the experiment by a group of women, who ranked the men’s photos on a 1-7 scale.

What researchers became most interested in was what happened when the “attractive” man rejected the woman.

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“Women who didn’t get accepted by the kinds of guys they were interested in, dealt with that by being harsh towards people they were less interested in,” says MacDonald.

When asked to judge the “unattractive” man’s dating profile after the rejection, the women were much more likely to not only reject him — even if he was interested — but also be especially critical of him.

The reason, according to researchers, is that women distance themselves from unattractive suitors following a rejection that calls their own looks into question.

“Avoiding affiliation with the unattractive man may have enabled rejected individuals to psychologically distance themselves from the stigma of being associated with unattractive others,” the study’s conclusion reads.

To put it into high school terms, it’s kind of like not wanting to associate with the “uncool” kid because that will, by default, make you less cool.

MacDonald believes the study can make us more aware of how we deal with rejection and serve as a reminder that it’s sometimes just a natural part of social life.

“It’s important to keep in mind that when your social life isn’t going particularly well,” he adds, “people can become a little distant and close themselves off to other people who could be helpful in helping them feel better about themselves.”

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