Harsh 'Reality': Bachelor's Emotional Impact?

Is the worst part about being dumped on national television the humiliation -- or the contractual obligation to keep it quiet for several weeks?

In a series finale that drew outrage from viewers, "The Bachelor," Jason Mesnick, broke off his engagement with Melissa Rycroft and rekindled his relationship with Molly Malaney.

In a surprise, in the early moments of the "After The Final Rose" show, which took place weeks after the show ended, Mesnick announced that his relationship with Rycroft had fizzled, and so he dumped her, and attempted to restart a romance with Malaney, a proposal she accepted.

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It's a move that did not sit well with Gillian Sheldon, managing editor of momlogic.com -- an online community targeted toward a female audience.

"Picking one person and proposing to her, and then six weeks later having this change of heart, is a little questionable," she said.

Sheldon's reaction was considerably less harsh than those of many commenters on her site, a large number of whom compared Mesnick to a certain feminine cleansing product.

But while most of the sympathy seems directed at the jilted Rycroft, at least one psychology expert said that perhaps more of it should be directed toward Malaney, even if she did ultimately win Mesnick's affection (for now, anyway).

Malaney faced rejection in the final days of taping in late November, when Mesnick dropped to a knee and proposed to Rycroft shortly after he sent Malaney packing. In the ensuing weeks, she was contractually bound to remain silent about the outcome and her feelings, until the first half of the "After The Final Rose" segment taped in mid-January. On the show, she described it as the hardest part of the experience.

"That's bad news," said C. Nathan DeWall, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. "That -- emotional suppression -- is a very, very poor strategy."

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Women who are not on reality shows, if told by the man they love that he is breaking off their relationship, can speak immediately to family and friends. Malaney effectively had a gag order and could not speak to anyone about coming down to the final two women -- and not being chosen.

'Reality' TV, Real Emotions

So what might be the effect of rejection, even in a contrived setting? DeWall said the feeling of exclusion -- the emotion that would overtake a contestant rejected on a show like "The Bachelor" -- was a feeling to which most could relate. And while it seems implausible that spending time together in front of cameras and a production crew for a few weeks would generate real emotions from the participants in a reality show, psychology has shown that people can bond quite quickly, and rejection can hurt from any source.

The need to "belong" in a relationship, DeWall said, is "so strong, that at a very basic level, this higher order logical reasoning -- that this probably isn't 'real' -- doesn't necessarily matter."

DeWall noted that studies have shown that when people are excluded, it does not matter as much who is excluding them; one piece of research even showed that people are as offended when excluded by a member of the KKK as by a random stranger.

In his own work, DeWall has seen students who meet for as little as 15 minutes feel hurt when they are suddenly excluded from a group.

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