If someone makes you feel stupid, that doesn’t make you stupid, does it? Well, actually, it might, according to a two-year study on isolation and rejection conducted by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister of Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University, and two colleagues.

Subjects were given a variety of intelligence tests and then made to feel rejected. Some were given a personality evaluation that led them to believe (falsely) that they were destined to spend their lives alone. Others were allowed to mingle with a group of strangers with whom, they were told, they might soon be called upon to complete a task. But later they were told that none of the strangers wished to have anything to do with them. After these unpleasant experiences, the subjects were tested again for intelligence. Their IQ scores plummeted by some 25 percent and their analytical reasoning by about 30 percent.

Baumeister says the results are the most dramatic he has seen in a quarter-century of research on self-esteem, rejection, and aggression. “Connecting with others is one of the deepest and most powerful human drives, and thwarting it has a big impact,” he concludes. “After being rejected, people cannot think straight for a while.” Fortunately, says Baumeister, the effects of a single rejection appear to be short-lived. But how intelligence is affected by repeated rejections is an open question worthy of further study.

-Jimmie Briggs