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Description: Have you ever had another person give you the silent treatment as in ignore you and not respond to or interact with you even when you were in the same room as them? Oh, and I should add, if this HAS happened to you was the person giving you the silent treatment over 5 years old and it lasted for more than a few minutes or hours? If this has happened to you, how did it feel? If it has not happened to you how do you think it would feel? If you felt or think you would feel less than good (rather than just enjoying the quiet) what do you think is driving those feelings or experiences? Here is a hint. Developmental researchers have used something they call the ‘still face’ procedure with infants. The infants are brought into a lab and videoed sitting close to and interacting with their mother. These initial interactions make it very clear how much of the mother infant interaction is driven by facial expressions via eye contact and through thr emotions that can be rad on the human face especially when the mother is exaggerating them a bit as parents typically do when interaction with their infant. Following signal from the researcher the mother lets her face go blank, showing no emotion though still looking at the infant. What do you think happens? Well, in almost every case the infant trys to keep their interaction going but the in a very short period of time start to look worried, tries to engage their mother (get her face emotions working again), sometimes doing the infant equivalent of yelling, and eventually getting upset and crying. This suggests that the impact of the ‘silent treatment’ on even small humans is a BIG deal. Think about the impact of the silent treatment on adults and think a bit too about why an adult might use the silent treatment on another adult. Once you have your hypotheses in order have a read though the article linked below to see what a number of psychologists have come up with in relation to these questions.

Source: ‘I felt as if I was dead to her’: The psychological cost of the silent treatment, Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today..

Date: April 3, 2022

Image by Engin_Akyurt from Pixabay

Article Link:

There are communities that respond to member of the community who do things that are considered unacceptable (steal or otherwise jeopardize the community’s well-being) by shunning the individual (a generalized silent treatment). Psychologists, especially Freud, argue that children are socialized first by shaming (we will not accept you or love you if you keep doing that) and only later once the child begins to be able to self-regulate is guilt (internalized, self-administered shame) involved. All of this suggests that social connection is a rather important part not just of feelings of well-being but perhaps also of survival. That said, purposefully ignoring another adult in the same room as you is odd.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does/might getting the silent treatment feel like?
  2. How would you react to or deal with the silent treatment?
  3. Why do humans from infants to adults react the ways they do to the silent treatment?

References (Read Further):

Williams, K. D., Shore, W. J., & Grahe, J. E. (1998). The silent treatment: Perceptions of its behaviors and associated feelings. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 1(2), 117-141. Link

Sommer, K. L., Williams, K. D., Ciarocco, N. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). When silence speaks louder than words: Explorations into th intrapsychic and interpersonal consequences of social ostracism. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 23(4), 225-243. Link

Zadro, L. (2013). Silent Treatment. APS Observer, 26(2). Link

Pluth, E., & Zeiher, C. (2019). The Silent Treatment. In On Silence (pp. 83-93). Palgrave Pivot, Cham. Link

Mesman, J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (2009). The many faces of the Still-Face Paradigm: A review and meta-analysis. Developmental review, 29(2), 120-162. Link

Adamson, L. B., & Frick, J. E. (2003). The still face: A history of a shared experimental paradigm. Infancy, 4(4), 451-473. Link