Cyberbullying, Facebook “defriending” and reality shows that kick contestants to the curb week after week. Has rejection become more common in our modern world?

Not necessarily, says C. Nathan DeWall, PhD, a rejection researcher and psychology professor at the University of Kentucky. Online rejection may simply be more noticeable than social snubs of the past. “The advent of social media opens opportunities for people to feel both more included and more excluded,” DeWall notes.

If social media aren’t making rejection more common, it may make it more painful, adds Leary. “It’s a lot more public and more humiliating” to be rejected online for the world to see, he says. That public embarrassment may compound the negative psychological impact of rejection.

The rise of rejection-based television, however, is indisputable. “Survivor” and other such shows may be the adult version of children’s games such as musical chairs and monkey in the middle, Williams says. “I think we’re attracted to those things because it’s sort of a safe danger,” he says. “We can feel what it feels like [to be ostracized], but also pull away and remind ourselves it’s not happening to us.”

When it comes to understanding modern rejection — whether it’s getting voted off the island or defriending a Facebook pal — there’s still a lot to learn. But one thing is clear: The pain of rejection has always been a part of life, and probably always will be.

—K. Weir