Question: I've noticed a lot of social exclusion going on among the girls in my daughter's school. Even my daughter does it a lot, despite my teaching her otherwise. Why is this?
Answer: Social exclusion is one form of relational aggression, a subtle and indirect type of bullying that is often used by girls against other girls. According to new research, your daughter and her friends may be simply acting naturally when they socially exclude others.
The research, which will soon be published in Psychological Science, showed that when females were threatened with social exclusion, they tended to exclude someone else before they could be shut out. Males, on the other hand, did not tend to do this. The research was conducted with college students, but since relational aggression peaks during the tween years, the findings would have likely only been stronger if examined in tweens.
Why do girls resort to social exclusion when threatened while boys do not? It probably has to do with the difference between male and female social scenes, the researchers say. Males tend to have groups of friends while females tend to foster one-on-one friendships. When a male is socially excluded, he still has plenty of other friends in his group to rely on. A girl, on the other hand, potentially loses her one great ally when she is socially excluded. Studies show that girls are indeed more jealous when their same-sex friends make new friends than boys are.
Losing your one close friend is not only painful, it may also tap into evolutionary fears of being left unprotected and vulnerable. Rather than be excluded, then, girls lash out and exclude others preemptively. Given this, it's no wonder that social exclusion is part and parcel of the female middle school social scene. Mean girls may be born, not made.
Association for Psychological Science. Press Release: Mean Girls and Queen Bees: Females Under Threat of Social Exclusion Respond by Excluding Others First. Accessed March 1, 2011: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/mean-girls-and-queen-bees-females-under-threat-of-social-exclusion-respond-by-excluding-others-first.html
Benenson, Joyce F., Markovits, Henry, Thompson, Melissa Emery, and Wrangham, Richard W. Under threat of social exclusion, females exclude more than males. 2011. Psychological Science.