Why Girls Use Social Exclusion

Two girls (12-13) bullying other school girl (10-11), differential focus
Chris Whitehead/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you have a daughter, you may notice social exclusion going on among the girls in her school. You may also discover that, despite you teaching otherwise, they continue to socially exclude others. Why do girls engage in this "mean girl" behavior?

Social Exclusion As Bullying

Social exclusion is one form of relational aggression, a subtle and indirect type of bullying that is often used by girls against other girls. Social exclusion is the act of rejecting someone from interpersonal interactions. The victim may be left out of invitations to parties, not allowed to eat lunch with a group, or completely shunned.

Social exclusion can also happen when unpleasant rumors are spread about the victim, through social media and in real life. As the rumors circulate, the victim loses more and more friends until they are fully ostracized. The victim may have been friends with those who are now leaving them out of their interactions, or they may have been excluded from the start.

Is Social Exclusion Innate?

According to one research study, girls may be simply acting naturally when they socially exclude others. The research, 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 been stronger if examined in tweens. Keep in mind that this was one study, and it could be a leap to say it proves that social exclusion is innate rather than cultural or learned.

Girls vs. Boys

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, stands to lose her one great ally when she is socially excluded. Studies show that girls are more jealous when their same-sex friends make new friends than boys are.

Effects of Social Exclusion

Losing one close friend is not only painful, but it may also tap into evolutionary fears of being left unprotected and vulnerable. Rather than be excluded, girls lash out and exclude others preemptively. Given this cycle, 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.

A Word From Verywell

Social exclusion can be devastating. If your child shows signs of being excluded, learn what you can do that can help them cope. Continue to teach your child that exclusion is a form of bullying and is not socially acceptable. Also, teach them why it is so important to be the kind of person who includes others—not excludes them.

1 Source
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  1. Benenson JF, Markovits H, Thompson ME, Wrangham RW. Under threat of social exclusion, females exclude more than males. Psychol Sci. 2011;22(4):538-544. doi:10.1177/0956797611402511

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.