The Unbearable Lightness of Being Rejected: Rebuffs Inspire Creativity

rejectedSurprisingly, researchers have found that social rejection can have a positive effect on independent people – rejectees are more creative after the experience of being shunned.

Science has traditionally shown rejection to have a negative cognitive effect but according to new research by John Hopkins University and Cornelly University, this is only for those who strongly value being part of a group.

For those with a strong “independent self-concept,” research shows that rejection can actually inspire creativity.
The paper “Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, is the first to study rejection in those who are not dependant on group approval. Independent types view social rejection as a “validation,” says Sharon Kim, lead author of the study, adding:

Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves – that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.”

Rejection has the opposite effect on those who do need to belong to a group. Typically, group rejection has been understood to negatively affect cognitive ability and cause anxiety and distress. This study, the first to look at the positive side of being rejected, goes against the media perception of rejection, says Sharon Kim.

We’re seeing in society a growing concern about the negative consequences of social rejection, thanks largely to media reports about bullying that occurs at school, in the workplace, and online. Obviously, bullying is reprehensible and produces nothing good. What we tried to show in our paper is that exclusion from a group can sometimes lead to a positive outcome when independently-minded people are the ones being excluded.” Sharon Kim

The unique research turns rejection on its head, with practical implications for business. Managers who want to employ imaginative thinkers and maximise creativity may want to take a second look at the unconventional job candidate – a traditionally easy target for rejection. Inventiveness is a valuable asset to an organisation, and all sorts of people are needed to ensure success, not just team players.

In the long term, a creative person with an “independent self-concept” would thrive on rejection, says Kim. Where repeated rebuffs would discourage someone who values inclusion, the slights could have the opposite effect on the independent thinker and continually recharge their creativity.

The independent person could see a successful career trajectory, in contrast with the person who is inhibited by social rejection.” Sharon Kim.


“Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?”

Image credit: with thanks to RGB Freestock contributer, Sundesigns