Investigations into the psychological processes that motivate the rejection—aggression link have revealed anger Chow et al.
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Although the psychological mechanisms of this effect are becoming well explicated, the neural mechanisms of the rejection—aggression link remain largely unexamined. Rejection threatens the fundamental human need for social connections MacDonald and Leary, Social Pain Overlap Theory posits that the brain evolved to respond to this social injury with a broad and powerful recruitment of multiple neural systems that include brain regions critical to the experience of pain Eisenberger and Lieberman, As outlined in Social Pain Overlap Theory, social pain is the aversive, affective and somatic response to perceptions of social rejection Eisenberger and Lieberman, ; Eisenberger, As evidence of this, functional neuroimaging has associated experimental inductions of exclusion with activity in brain regions associated with the affective component of pain: Reactivity of the DACC to rejection is associated with greater retaliatory aggression, though only among individuals with relatively poor executive functioning Chester et al.
Social pain, like physical pain, is not an unchecked response to stimuli.
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Instead, robust regulatory mechanisms exist to modulate neural pain reactivity Price, In this context, the VLPFC exerts a regulatory role that inhibits the subjective experience of pain by inhibiting brain regions that generate the distressing experience of pain Eisenberger et al. These findings fit with a much larger literature demonstrating the critical role of the VLPFC in regulating distress and negative affect Wager et al.
Indeed, the VLPFC is a relatively large and heterogeneous region of the prefrontal cortex that is anatomically and functionally heterogeneous Levy and Wagner, Yet how might VLPFC recruitment during rejection impact the neural underpinnings of retaliatory aggression? Germane to this project, retaliatory aggression has also been linked to activity in the ventral striatum during the aggressive act, a neural region reliably linked to the experience of pleasure and reward Chester and DeWall, The VLPFC exerts a robust regulatory influence on the ventral striatum, the connectivity of which predicts greater self-regulatory success e.
Retaliatory aggression is associated with reduced connectivity between the ventral striatum and the VLPFC, potentially indicating a dysregulated reward response Buades-Rotger et al. These findings suggest that a likely neural mechanism underlying retaliatory aggression is a magnified and dysregulated striatal response, that may serve to reinforce such aggressive acts.
Our results further fit with psychological research that implicates reward and pleasure as central components of revenge-seeking tendencies Chester and DeWall, b. The pleasure of retaliation likely motivates aggression in both prospective and concurrent manners, with individuals seeking out acts of retaliatory aggression for the anticipated and currently felt rewards it brings. However, it remains unknown how such striatal mechanisms interact with neural responses to rejection. Conventionally, VLPFC recruitment during aversive experiences is theorized to be an adaptive regulatory response Wager et al.
Indeed, self-regulation failures e. Recent work has called for modification to this prevailing paradigm, suggesting that while this conceptualization of VLPFC recruitment may be correct in the short-term i. As evidence for this new approach, performing aversive, taxing and prefrontally mediated tasks has been linked to subsequent self-regulatory failure e.
Inzlicht and Gutsell, Participants who were attempting to restrict their calorie intake exhibited greater reward reactivity to food stimuli and less functional connectivity between reward regions and the lateral PFC after they had to repeatedly regulate their attention away from a distracting stimulus Wagner et al. When racially biased Whites interacted face-to-face with a Black individual, their lateral PFC recruitment to Black faces predicted subsequent self-control impairment Richeson et al. These findings suggest that greater lateral PFC recruitment during aversive experiences may not prove adaptive in the long-term.
In the context of rejection, greater VLPFC recruitment during rejection predicted a magnified and prefrontally dysregulated ventral striatum response to appetitive cues on a subsequent lab task Chester and DeWall, Extending outside of the lab, greater rejection-related VLPFC activity was associated with self-regulatory failures and increased cravings Chester and DeWall, Further evidence for this model was found by observing that individuals who chronically experienced self-regulatory failure in response to aversive experiences also exhibited an exacerbated VLPFC response to aversive situations Chester et al.
This greater VLPFC response was associated with poorer inhibitory success and predicted greater alcohol consumption 1 month and 1 year later. It is important to note that self-regulation is not localized to the VLPFC, but is subserved by a host of other regions including the dorsolateral and dorsomedial PFC Kober et al. The excessive recruitment model may indeed apply to these other regions, yet the evidence for making such claims about these other brain regions is currently lacking.
Because aggression can be construed as a self-regulatory failure Denson et al. Further, this model may help explain larger patterns of aggressive behavior that extend beyond the individual rejection incident. Physical aggression is typically thought of in the context of a single act, but aggression is also a dispositional, trait-like construct Buss and Perry, Trait aggression shows substantial generalizability across cultures, between-individual variability, predictive validity of actual aggressive behavior and within-individual test-retest reliability Huesmann et al.
Together, these findings provide substantial support for the existence of physical aggressiveness as a personality trait.
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The underlying neurobiology of trait physical aggression remains largely unknown, with few published studies on this topic e. An unexamined neural mechanism might underlie trait aggression: As a behavior that recruits the ventral striatum Chester and DeWall, , retaliatory aggression is a candidate for an act that can become striatally reinforced, leading to durable patterns of aggressive behavior across time and situations.
The main goal of this project was to better understand the neural mechanisms of the rejection—aggression link and how they might contribute to larger patterns of aggressive traits. Based off the excessive recruitment model Chester et al. Seeking to replicate previous work Chester and DeWall, , we further predicted that ventral striatum activity during retaliatory opportunities would positively correlate with greater actual retaliation.
These findings would support a temporal sequence whereby VLPFC activity during rejection promotes subsequent retaliation through a magnified ventral striatum response. We further predicted that dispositionally, physically aggressive individuals would exhibit greater dysregulation in the ability of the VLPFC to functionally inhibit the ventral striatum during retaliatory aggression. To test these predictions, a sample of undergraduates experienced social acceptance and then rejection from two same-sex strangers and then were given an opportunity to aggressively retaliate against one of their rejecters, all while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI.
Participants then reported the extent of their aggressive traits and another measure of whether participants typically experienced pleasure during retaliatory aggression, which served to assist our reverse inference that the ventral striatum activity that we expected to observe during retaliatory aggression reflected reward and not some other process. All participants provided informed consent before performing any research procedures, and all research procedures were conducted in accordance with human participants protection regulations as set forth by governmental and institutional policies.
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We, as authors, declare no conflicts of interest relevant to the research described in our manuscript. Data from a subset of these participants have been published in a separate manuscript Chester and DeWall, a. Participants were 60 healthy, right-handed, English-fluent, young adults 38 females, 22 males; age: Exclusionary criteria were assessed by an online questionnaire, which included: The item Angry Mood Improvement Inventory AMII assesses the degree to which individuals tend to control and express their aggressive behavior to improve their mood when they are upset Bushman et al.
The eight-item Expression-Outwards subscale of the AMII assesses the tendency to express aggression outwardly in order to experience mood repair sample items: Participants indicate the frequency of these mood-motivated actions along a 1 Never to 5 Often scale. The BAQ contains 12 items that comprise four factors: Participants responded to each item along a 1 disagree to 7 agree scale. Participants arrived at the neuroimaging laboratory where they had the study explained to them, which entailed a cover story that the study was actually examining the role of brain functioning during various cognitive tasks in promoting alcohol misuse.
Further, participants were instructed that they would be completing the study with two partners who were in nearby testing rooms. To ensure the believability of this deception, participants were told that they were the first participant to arrive and then asked to select a piece of paper that would determine which of the three MRI scanners they would be placed in in reality, there was only one MRI scanner.
To induce an experience of social rejection in the functional neuroimaging environment, we employed the Cyberball social rejection task Williams et al. In this task, participants were instructed to play a virtual ball-tossing game with two fictitious partners. The ostensible purpose of the task was for participants to mentally visualize the task as if it were occurring in real life, so that we might understand the neural underpinnings of the human imagination.
The task proceeded across three blocks. In this task, participants competed against one of their fictitious Cyberball partners, who was supposedly in an MRI scanner nearby, to see who could press a button faster.
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As an ostensible motivational component of the task, participants were punished if they lost the competition via an aversive noise blast. Conversely, if participants won the competition their opponent heard the noise blast and they did not. Crucially, the volume of the noise blast delivered to their opponent was set by the participant and served as the measure of aggressive behavior. The task consisted of 14 blocks, with each block containing six trials.
Then, participants completed a 7. A blank screen then appeared for a jittered duration 0. If participants lost the competition, they heard an aversive noise blast that varied from 1 silence to 4 extremely loud, though not dangerous. Whether a given aggression trial was preceded by their opponent setting a loud 3, 4 or soft 1, 2 volume level determined whether the given trial was retaliatory after a loud blast or non-retaliatory after a soft blast. Such retaliatory and non-retaliatory trials were split fairly evenly six retaliatory and eight non-retaliatory and randomly presented with the exception of the first trial, which was always non-retaliatory.
Wins and losses were randomized and split evenly seven wins and seven losses. Each of the 14 blocks lasted for Participants completed a series of other functional scans that were part of a separate project on impulsivity, and then exited the scanner. It is a hilarious compilation of rejected material personal and professional and the stories that go with them. For every piece of accepted material, there are hundreds of pieces of rejected material -and unique, often hysterical, stories that go along with them.
What are the reasons that something so good can be overlooked? What were they thinking when they presented something so horrible?
It means someone actually paid attention enough to send you something. Bonus points if the sender wrote a personal note. This is awesome dude. Such a great idea. My favorite for some reason is still the croissant. Keep it up and start videoing this stuff!! I was waaaay too amused by this post: Great stories for sure, but I think you can step it up.
It almost seems like you wanted to get rejected just to fulfill the goal. Think you can put yourself out there a little more and go for something big? Can you take my challenge? Promise that next week will have better rejections! We should talk via Skype sometime. Hash this thing out: This is really fantastic Jason. I love it, man. Keep up the good work. Rejection is a necessary life experience. Hi Jason thank you for this post, I currently work from home selling export goods online, but recently I have been wanting to market my own little invention, just a cosmetic.
Do you think its better to buy locally or buy my stuff abroad? This is amazing and made me laugh out loud several times with you I promise. I appreciate your sense of adventure and humor; and clearly are a talented writer to convey it all so well! Excellent work, I am officially inspired. See the about page After reading it, I got really interested in doing it.
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