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Author's Introduction

I first encountered ostracism (other than what I had learned as it was used by the Athenians) when I watched a television documentary about a West Point Academy cadet, James Pelosi, who was subjected to 2 years of silence by his peers because they wanted him to leave. I was amazed at two things: (i) that a non-behavior (not looking at; not talking to; not responding to) was so powerful; and (ii) that social psychology had not really examined the impact of ostracism on feeling, thinking, and behaving. Then, I started collecting articles about how ostracism was used by tribes, governments, religions, and even by many social animals, leading me to conclude that ostracism was possibly an evolutionarily adaptive behavior of groups and societies. Several years later, I personally encountered two episodes of ostracism that gave me insight into how it felt, and guidance on how to study it in the laboratory. My wife at the time was prone to give me the silent treatment when she was angry, and this could last for weeks. Second, when sitting in a park with my dog, a Frisbee rolled up to me. I threw it back to the two guys who were throwing it, and, to my surprise, they threw it back to me. I joined them and was actively involved for several throws. Then, for no reason that I could figure out, they stopped throwing it to me for good. Although embarrassed and hurt, I quickly realized that I could take this relatively simple game into the laboratory to manipulate ostracism. Since then, in my lab and labs of other researchers, we have discovered how common and powerful ostracism is, and how it affects the brain, emotions, cognitions, and behaviors. At this point, we are actively pursuing the conditions under which ostracized individuals or groups will respond by being more socially desirable and socially susceptible (as in perhaps becoming easy prey for cults), or by being anti-social and violent (as is often the case for spree shooters).

Author Recommends:

  • 1
    Williams, K. D. (2001). Ostracism: The power of silence. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
    In this book, Williams presents his interest in ostracism, its universality among social animals, and the research program he undertook to investigate the impact of ostracism on the individual.
  • 2
    Williams, K. D., Forgas, J. P., & von Hippel, W. (Eds.) (2005). The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
    This edited book was based upon a meeting of the top ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying researchers in the world at the 7th Annual Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology. Researchers present their most recent findings and theoretical perspectives. Includes chapters by Baumeister, Leary, Williams, Twenge, Fitness, Eisenberger and Liebermann, Juvanen, Pickett, Gardner, Cacioppo, Ouwerkerk, Fiske, Hogg, Tice, Sommer, Downey, and others.
  • 3
    Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425–452.
    A literature review and theoretical framework of the research on ostracism, social exclusion, and rejection up to 2007.
  • 4
    Warburton, W. A., Williams, K. D., & Cairns, D. R. (2006). When ostracism leads to aggression: The moderating effects of control deprivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 213–220.
    A study that shows the importance of loss of control in the ostracism [RIGHTWARDS ARROW]aggression link.
  • 5
    Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302, 290–292.
    The first fMRI study showing the pain of ostracism, as registered in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.
  • 6
    Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K. T., & Choi, W. (2000). CyberOstracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748–762.
    The first article that used Cyberball, showing its affect not only on self-reports of need threat and mood, but on subsequent inclinations to conform to a series unanimously incorrect group judgments.
  • 7
    Zadro, L., Boland, C., & Richardson, R. (2006). How long does it last? The persistence of the effects of ostracism in the socially anxious. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 692–697.
    The first study showing the immutable reflexive effects of ostracism and the impact of individual differences in social anxiety on coping and recovery.
  • 8
    Twenge, J. M., Baumeister, R. F., Tice, D. M., & Stucke, T. S. (2001). If you can't join them, beat them: Effects of social exclusion on aggressive behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1058–1069.
    The first article showing the link between social exclusion and aggression. A true classic!
  • 9
    Gardner, W., Pickett, C. L., & Brewer, M. B. (2000). Social exclusion and selective memory: How the need to belong influences memory for social events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 486–496.
    A nice set of studies showing that social exclusion leads individuals to pay more attention to social information.
  • 10
    Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.
    This is a seminal article presenting evidence that belonging is a fundamental need, without which humans suffer emotionally and physically. One of the best aspects of this article is laying out the groundwork for the criteria that need to be met to be considered a need.

Online Materials:

I have uploaded several videos on the following webpage that illustrate the power of ostracism within laboratory studies and examples in the media.

On this webpage, you can find the following short video clips:

  • 1
    Cyberball included. Shows a brief version of Cyberball that has been programmed to include the participant.
  • 2
    Cyberball ostracized. Shows a brief version of Cyberball that has been programmed to ostracize the participant.
  • 3
    Participant playing Cyberball ostracized. Shows a participant playing Cyberball (ostracized) over about a 2-minute period. He has given permission for this video to be shown, but was unaware at the time that he was being videotaped.
  • 4
    Interviews with Kip Williams
  • 5
    To See The Invisible Man. A short snippet of a great Twilight Zone episode, that can be purchased at Amazon.com
  • 6
    A BBC replication of fMRI study; interview with a few participants.
  • 7
    Teaching ostracism in the classroom using the ‘Train Ride’ paradigm. Zadro, L., & Williams, K. D. (2006). How do you teach the power of ostracism? Evaluating the Train Ride demonstration. Social Influence, 1, 1–24, by kind permission of Psychology Press, http://www.psypress.com/socinf, 2008.

Sample Syllabus:

Seminar in Social Acceptance Versus Ostracism

Course Description

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the theories and research programs on ostracism, social exclusion, and rejection (and a bit of bullying thrown in for good measure). Theories, paradigms, and research developments will be introduced through lectures and readings and group projects and discussions.

Course Format and Readings

This seminar on Social Acceptance Versus Ostracism consists of lectures, class discussion, small group activities, and a proposed study for groups of two to four students. There are several readings that students should all read, and then each student should be responsible for presenting a single (different) journal article.

Course Requirements and Grading

The primary requirement of the course is to do all the group assigned readings in preparation for the discussions, to present a reading outside of the group assigned readings (via PowerPoint) to participate thoughtfully and frequently in the class discussions, and to work together in small groups to develop a research project. Final grades will be based on the amount and quality of student participation in general (20%), individual presentation of readings (40%), and a group presentation (PowerPoint and handout) that proposes a new experiment (40%) that answers an interesting question, based on the current state of knowledge on this topic.

Course Projects

Individual Presentation. Using PowerPoint, outline the journal article that you were assigned and present it to the class, as a teacher would present the material to his or her class. Make it clear what the rationale was for the research, what literature was pertinent, what the hypotheses were, how the study was done, what the results were, and what the authors felt the primary contribution was. Then, offer your own assessment of the research, as a reviewer would. What were its strengths and what were it weaknesses? Did you spot any alternative explanations or confounds? Do you think the findings would generalize to other manipulations, measures, and populations (if not, why not)? What further studies would you suggest doing based on this research?

Group Presentation. The group presentation should consists of a PowerPoint presentation that includes: (i) a title page and a 120-word (maximum) abstract; (ii) a brief introduction, citing relevant research; (iii) a hypothesis, stated clearly; (iv) a method section that the reader could use to replicate the study; (v) a graph of the expected results; (vi) a brief discussion section that indicates, if the results supported the hypothesis, what the theoretical and practical significance would be for the field; and (vii) a reference section. Your final grading will be based on a composite score of your presentation and your seminar contributions.

All students should read the following articles prior to the beginning of class:

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.

Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425–452.

Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236–247.

Each Student is Responsible For Reading and Presenting One of These:

Individual article (or cluster of articles), from which each of you chooses one (each student needs to choose a different article). If you would like to choose something not on this list, get lecturer's approval:

Allen, N. B., & Badcock, P. B. T. (2003). The social risk hypothesis of depressed mood: evolutionary, psychosocial, and neurobiological perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 887–913.

Buckley, Leary. (2004). Reactions to acceptance and rejection: Effects of level and sequence of relational evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 14–28.

Dickerson, S. S., Gruenewald, T. L., & Kemeny, M. E. (2005). When the social Self is threatened: Shame, physiology, and health. Unpublished manuscript. UCLA.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., Williams, K. D. (2003). Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion. Science, 302, 290–292. & Panksepp, J. (2003). Feeling the pain of social loss. Science, 302, 237–239. & Heatherton et al. in Nature Neuroscience.

Gonsalkorale, K., & Williams, K. D. (2007). The KKK won't let me play: Ostracism even by a despised outgroup hurts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 1176–1186.

Maner, J. K., DeWall, C., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). Does social exclusion motivate interpersonal reconnection? Resolving the ‘porcupine problem.’Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 42–55.

Murray, S. L., Paul Rose, P., Bellavia, G. M., Holmes, J. G., & Kusche, A. G. (2002). When rejection stings: How self-esteem constrains relationship-enhancement processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 556–573.

Oaten, M., Williams, K. D., Jones, A., & Zadro, L. (forthcoming). The effects of ostracism on self-regulation in the socially anxious. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Ouwerkerk, J. W., Kerr, N. L., Gallucci, M., van Lange, P. A. M. (2005). Avoiding the social death penalty: Ostracism and cooperation in social dilemmas. In K. D. Williams, J. P. Forgas, & W. von Hippel (Eds.), The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying (pp. 321–332). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Pickett, C. L., Gardner, W. L., & Knowles, M. (2004). Getting a cue: The need to belong and enhanced sensitivity to social cues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1095–1107.

Spoor, J., & Williams, K. D. (2007). The evolution of an ostracism detection system. In J. P. Forgas, M. Haselton, & W. von Hippel (Eds.), The evolution of the social mind: Evolutionary psychology and social cognition. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Twenge, J. M., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Ciarocco, N. J., & Bartels, J. M. (2007). Social exclusion decreases prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 56–66.

Twenge, J. M., Baumeister, R. F., Tice, D. M., & Stucke, T. S. (2001). If you can't join them, beat them: Effects of social exclusion on aggressive behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1058–1069.

Van Beest, I., & Williams, K. D. (2006). When inclusion costs and ostracism pays, ostracism still hurts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 918–928.

Warburton, W. A., Williams, K. D., & Cairns, D. R. (2006). When ostracism leads to aggression: The moderating effects of control deprivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 213–220.

Williams, K. D., Bernieri, F., Faulkner, S., Grahe, J., & Gada-Jain, N. (2000). The Scarlet Letter Study: Five days of social ostracism. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5, 19–63.

Williams, K. D., Cheung, C., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748–762.

Williams, K. D., Govan, C. L., Croker, V., Tynan, D., Cruickshank, M., Lam, A. (2002). Investigations into differences between social and cyberostracism. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, & Practice, 6, 65–77.

Williams, K. D., & Sommer, K. L. (1997). Social ostracism by one's coworkers: Does rejection lead to loafing or compensation? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 693–706.

Smith, A., & Williams, K. D. (2004). R U There? Effects of ostracism by cell phone messages. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 8, 291–301.

Zadro, L., Boland, C., & Richardson, R. (2006). How long does it last? The persistence of the effects of ostracism in the socially anxious. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 692–697.

Zadro, L., Williams, K. D., & Richardson, R. (2004). How low can you go? Ostracism by a computer lowers belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 560–567.

Zadro, L., Williams, K. D., & Richardson, R. (2005). Riding the ‘O’ train: Comparing the effects of ostracism and verbal dispute on targets and sources. Group Processes and Interpersonal Relations, 8, 125–143.

Example: Topics for Lecture & Discussion

Meetings 1–3: Introduction & Overview

Presentation of Williams's (2007) overview on research on ostracism.

What is ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, bullying? How are they similar, how are they different?

Readings for all:

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.

Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425–452.

Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236–247.

Meetings 4–10.

Following weeks: Individual presentations, followed by group presentations.

OPTIONAL:

Focus Questions

  • 1
    Of what benefit is ostracism to those who use it?
  • 2
    Why do a large range of social animals use ostracism?
  • 3
    What makes ostracism so fundamental to human existence?
  • 4
    Why are effects so large in ostracism research?
  • 5
    Why do you think ostracism sometimes leads to thoughts and behaviors that serve to increase the likelihood of inclusion, whereas other times it leads to anti-social and violent reactions?

Seminar/Project Idea:

A classroom demonstration on ostracism has been developed by Lisa Zadro and Kip Williams, called The Train Ride.

Summary: Research and current events have illustrated the importance of teaching students about the consequences of being ostracized – excluded and ignored – by others. But how can the importance of ostracism be conveyed in a meaningful and engaging fashion? We designed a role-play train ride demonstration (the ‘O’ train) to teach high school and university students how it feels to be ostracized and to ostracize others. Students are assigned the roles of sources or targets of ostracism during a simulated train ride. Targets are initially included in spirited discussion, then ostracized by the sources for the remaining 4 minutes. A survey of students and teachers indicated that the train ride provides genuine insights into the power of ostracism above other teaching methods.

Relevant Articles:

Zadro, L., Williams, K. D., & Richardson, R. (2005). Riding the ‘O’ train: Comparing the effects of ostracism and verbal dispute on targets and sources. Group Processes and Interpersonal Relations, 8, 125–143.

Zadro, L., & Williams, K. D. (2006). How do you teach the power of ostracism? Evaluating the Train Ride demonstration. Social Influence, 1, 1–24.

For additional information and materials, go to: