Ostracism: Effects of Being Ignored Over the Internet

Social Psychology

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Overview

Source: Peter Mende-Siedlecki & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

Social ostracism is defined as being ignored and excluded in the presence of others. This experience is a pervasive and powerful social phenomenon, observed in both animals and humans, throughout all stages of human development, and across all manner of dyadic relationships, cultures, and social groups and institutions. Some have argued that ostracism serves a social regulatory function, which can enhance group cohesion and fitness by removing unwanted elements.1 As such, the feeling of ostracism can serve as a warning to alter one’s behavior, in order to rejoin with the group.2

Research in social psychology has focused extensively on the affective and behavioral consequences of social ostracism. For example, individuals who have been ostracized report feeling depressed, lonely, anxious, frustrated, and helpless,3 and while they may now evaluate the source of their ostracism more negatively, they will also often try to ingratiate themselves to them.2 Furthermore, it has been speculated that the fear of ostracism is ultimately driven by a strong need to belong and to feel included, and serves as a social pressure leading to conformity, compliance, and impression management.4

In a model developed by Williams (1997), ostracism uniquely targets four core needs— belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence—triggering negative mood, anxiety, physiological arousal, and hurt feelings.5 In return, to defend against such psychological discomfort, ostracized individuals may attempt to cope by reinforcing these core needs. For example, they may attempt to visibly conform to group norms to reestablish their place amongst the collective.

Cite this Video

JoVE Science Education Database. Social Psychology. Ostracism: Effects of Being Ignored Over the Internet. JoVE, Cambridge, MA, (2017).

Principles

In the present study, Williams, Cheung, and Choi (2000) developed a novel technique for inducing and studying social ostracism in the laboratory setting. In previous research, participants engaged in an experience of “real-life” ostracism: while playing a five-minute ball-tossing game with confederates, some participants received the ball only a few times towards the beginning of the five-minute period, and then never again.2,6 While this manipulation evoked strong emotional responses of ostracism in participants, the authors decided that it was ultimately an inefficient design, particularly with regards to the roles of the confederates and the training they require. Building on this research, the authors devised a new, computerized version of the ball-tossing task, which became known as Cyberball,3 which is detailed below.

In the design described below, the original authors went to great lengths to characterize the effects of social ostracism on feelings of belonging and conformity, as well as to understand the potentially moderating role of group membership. For example, they included additional conditions designed to serve as experimental controls to ascertain a) participants’ baseline levels of performance, independent of conformity, as well as b) participants’ baseline susceptibility to conformity, independent of exclusion. The latter control allows the experimenter to determine the directionality of the observed effect of exclusion—i.e., does exclusion increase conformity, compared to baseline, or rather, does inclusion decrease conformity? As for the effects of group membership, while these conditions were included in the original study, this manipulation could ultimately be omitted at the experimenter’s discretion, if he or she simply wanted to focus on the impact of social ostracism, independent of group membership.

Procedure

1. Recruiting Participants

  1. Conduct a power analysis and recruit a sufficient number of participants (approximately 20/group) to cover six different experimental conditions, and, if desired, two additional control conditions (Table 1).
In-Group Out-Group Mixed-Group
Exclusion (1) Excluded from a group composed of two in-group members (2) Excluded from a group composed of two out-group members (3) Excluded from a group composed of one in-group and one out-group member
Inclusion (4) Included in a group composed of two in-group members (5) Included in a group composed of two out-group members (6) Included in a group composed of one in-group and one out-group member
Additional Control
Conditions
(if desired)
(7) Participants complete just the perception task, and perform it alone, to determine baseline performance in that task, independent of conformity (see step 11). (8) Participants complete just the perception task with group responses, to determine baseline influence of conformity pressure, independent of exclusion or inclusion (see step 11).

2. Data Collection

  1. Run participants individually.
  2. Seat the participant in front of a computer that is connected to the internet and open the Cyberball program.
  3. Instruct the participant that they will be taking part in computerized task, and that they should read the directions carefully.
  4. Describe the purpose of the experiment as comparing perceptual abilities of PC versus Mac users.
  5. Inform the participant that they will be interacting with other players who are simultaneously logged onto the study over the internet. Note: The original investigation was performed over the internet, with participants logging in remotely rather than performing the experiment in the laboratory.
  6. Have each participant sign a consent form to participate.
  7. Request that participants fill out a pre-experimental questionnaire, in which they are asked to specify which type of computer they typically use (i.e., Mac or PC) and to write brief descriptions of average PC users and average Mac users.
    1. Use these descriptions later as a manipulation check to determine whether participants make more positive comments about players who used the same type of computer as they do.
  8. Randomly assign participants to one of the three strength of group-ties-manipulation conditions prior to beginning the Cyberball game: in-group, out-group, or mixed-group.
    1. Specifically, tell participants that the other two players theyll be interacting with are either a) both PC users, b) both Mac users, or c) one of each. For participants that are PC users, this creates in-group, out-group and mixed-group conditions, respectively. For Mac users, this creates out-group, in-group, and mixed-group conditions, respectively.
  9. Leave the room once the participant begins the Cyberball game.
    1. The Cyberball game should be described as a means to an end-specifically, as merely a task that should help participants exercise their mental visualization skills, which they will purportedly use in the subsequent experimental task.
    2. The game depicts three ball-tossers, the middle one representing the participant. The game is animated and shows the icon throwing a ball to one of the other two. When the ball is tossed to the participant, they are instructed to click on one of the other two icons to indicate their intended recipient, and the ball then moves toward that icon.
  10. Make sure the Cyberball task is set to randomly assign the participant to one of two “ostracism-manipulation” conditions: inclusion or complete ostracism.
    1. The program will hold the first three throws of the game constant across all conditions, always starting off with the participant in possession of the ball.  
      1. In the original experiment, the task was set to 10 throws in total. Subsequent versions of the task have increased the number of throws for additional statistical power (e.g., 40 throws).7 If the experimenter has a large enough sample size within each condition, fewer trials are acceptable; however, if not, additional trials are certainly desirable.
    2. Subsequently, every player is given the chance to throw and catch the ball once.
    3. On the fourth throw, the participant will once again be in possession of the ball and have the chance to throw it to either of the two computer players.
    4. From the fifth throw onwards, participants are randomly assigned by a predetermined algorithm to either be included or ostracized.
      1. If in the in the inclusion condition, the participant will continue to receive the ball for a third of the throws.
      2. If in the ostracism condition, the participant will not be thrown the ball again.
    5. The primary dependent variable of Cyberball is participants perceptions of the percentage of time they were thrown to.
  11. To provide insight into how participants might perform on the perception task in absence of ostracism and peer influence, the original authors also ran two sets of control participants that did not perform the Cyberball task, but instead, went straight to the perception task.
    1. While these control conditions were included in the original research, and offer an additional degree of experimental control, they are not strictly necessary to include. However, to replicate these conditions, follow the instructions below.
      1. Have one set of control participants skip the Cyberball task, and proceed directly to a version of the perception task which does not include the other five respondents (e.g., so there is no pressure to conform to peer influence).
    2. Have a second set of control participants also skip the Cyberball task, and proceed directly to the group perception task as described. These data allow the researcher to determine the directionality of their effects (i.e., does ostracism increase conformity, or does inclusion decrease it?).
  12. After the Cyberball game, re-enter the testing room to launch the second part of the study, which the participant should believe to be the primary experiment-a computerized perception task.
  13.  Instruct them to click a number on the rotating wheel to determine which respondent number they will be assigned.
    1. The wheel should be rigged to always stop at the No. 6 position, so that all participants are (ostensibly randomly) assigned to be the sixth person in a new, six-person group that will be asked to make judgments regarding six perceptual comparisons.
  14. Next, provide the participant with an overview of the perception task with a visual example.
    1. Explain that on each trial, a simple geometric figure (like a triangle) will appear on the screen for 5 s, after which it will disappear, followed by six complex figures that will also be displayed on the screen for 5 s. The initial, simple geometric figure will be embedded in one of the six complex figures.
    2. Instruct the participant that their task is to identify the correct figure (i.e., the complex figure containing the initial, simple figure) from the six by clicking on the appropriate button.
    3. Critically, make clear to the participant, that since they are Respondent #6, while waiting for their turn to respond, other users' responses will appear sequentially on the screen.
    4. When "Respondent Number 6" appears on the screen, have the participant enter their response.
  15. Once the participant understands the directions, begin the perception task.
    1. Trials 1 and 2 of the perception task should be easier than the ones that follow, in order to familiarize participants with the demands of the task.
    2. Trials 3, 4, and 6 are the critical trials of the task. On these trials, the other “players” should be preprogrammed to display unanimously incorrect responses.
    3. On the other trials (Trials 1, 2, and 5), the other members should make unanimously correct responses.
    4. The primary dependent variable of the perception task is conformity. Simply calculate the percentage of times that each participant conforms with the unanimous wrong answers provided by the group on Trials 3, 4, and 6.
  16. Afterwards, ask the participant to complete a post-experimental questionnaire on the computer.
    1. Make sure this questionnaire contains several manipulation checks, and measures feelings of belonging.
      1. As a manipulation check, ask participants to report on perceptions of the number of throws they received, as well as whether their co-partners were using a Mac, or PC, or one of each.
      2. To assess belonging, ask participants to rate the extent to which they felt a sense of belonging with their co-partners on a 9-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 9 (very much).
      3. The primary dependent variable of the questionnaire is feeling of belonging. Average the ratings given by groups.
  17. Fully debrief the participant regarding the purpose and procedures of the study.
    1. In particular, explain the ostracism manipulations, the computer-generated partners, and the conformity ruse.
    2. Provide your contact information to the participant, in case they have further questions or concerns.

3. Data Analysis

  1. After running all participants, examine how a) participants perceptions of the percentage of time they were thrown to (essentially a manipulation check), b) feelings of belonging, and c) conformity vary as a function of both ostracism/inclusion and group composition.
    1. To do so, perform three separate via 2 (ostracism vs. inclusion) x 3 (group composition: in-group, out-group, mixed group) ANOVAs on these dependent variables.
    2. In addition, analyze the responses from the pre-experimental questionnaire, via a 2 (group membership: Mac or PC) x 2 (target group: Mac or PC) mixed ANOVA, to confirm that on average, participants rated in-group members more positively than out-group members.

Most people want to be socially connected and included with others. Researchers can examine what happens when the opposite occurs—being ignored and excluded—which is known as ostracism.

With the rise of social media, the experience of ostracism has become ubiquitous. For example, during a browsing session, an individual may see pictures from a party that they apparently weren’t invited to attend.

On account of her perceived absence, she unleashes a whirlwind of emotions, including sadness, anxiety, arousal, and hurt feelings. As irrational as it seems, the internet-based observation—not even in-person—was enough to thwart core desires of belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence.

This video demonstrates how to establish group connections, induce ostracism in a laboratory setting using a computerized game Cyberball, and measure the subsequent effects on conformity and feelings of belonging based on the original experiment from Williams, Cheung, and Choi.

This experiment consists of three parts: establishing group membership ties, inducing ostracism, and examining the effects on conformity and belonging.

In Phase 1, group membership, all participants are given an initial questionnaire, which probes the computer platform they use. In addition, they are asked to write brief descriptions of what they think both groups of users are like. This latter portion serves as a manipulation check to see if participants make more positive comments about others who use same computer as they do.

To manipulate the strength of group ties, participants are then are given different interaction assignments. They are put into an in-group—where all players use the same type, an out-group—the others prefer the opposite, or a mixed group.

During Phase 2, critical for inducing ostracism, participants play a computerized game called Cyberball, where there are three animated characters tossing and catching a ball. When it’s tossed to the participant—represented as the middle player—they are instructed to click on the intended recipient of their choice.

Within the first three throws of the game, the participant always starts off with possession of the ball. Subsequently, every player is given the chance to throw and catch the ball once.

On the fourth throw, the participant will once again be in possession of the ball and choose who to throw it to. From the fifth throw and onwards, participants are randomly assigned by a predetermined algorithm to either be included or ostracized.

Participants in the inclusion conditions will continue to receive the ball for a third of the throws, whereas those in the ostracism conditions will not be thrown the ball again.

In Phase 3—what participants are told is the real primary task involving perceptual comparisons—another computerized task is carried out. Here, they think that they are choosing their line-up number within a new six-person group, when in reality, the spinning wheel is rigged to stop at the sixth position.

For each trial, a simple geometric figure—like a triangle—appears on the screen, then disappears, and reappears embedded within one of six complex figures. Participants are asked to identify the correct figure—that is, the complex one containing the initial simple shape.

Since all participants in the study respond last, they will see how the "others" reply across six trials. During the 1st, 2nd, and 5th, the other members should make only correct responses. However, on trials 3, 4, and 6, the "other players" are programmed to display unanimously incorrect answers.

These latter three are critical because they represent a dependent measure of conformity to the group, calculated as the percentage of incorrect responses participants make. It’s expected that those who are ostracized will conform to the wrong answers on more trials compared to participants who are included.

Afterwards, a final questionnaire is given and includes two other dependent variables: the number of perceived throws the participant received and feelings of belonging with their respective group, assessed on a rating scale from 1 (not at all) to 9 (very much).

Based on the initial narratives provided, participants are expected to rate in-group members more positively than those in the out-group. However, those who are ostracized are predicted to report receiving fewer throws and lower ratings of belonging compared to those who are included.

These results would suggest that being ignored during a computerized task—even without face-to-face communication—is enough to robustly induce feelings of social ostracism in participants.

Prior to the experiment, conduct a power analysis to recruit a sufficient number of participants for this two by three design. To begin, escort one participant at a time into the testing room.

First inform them that they are going to complete a computerized task that will compare perceptual abilities of PC vs. Mac users. Let them know that they will be interacting with other players who are simultaneously logged into the study over the internet. After answering any questions, have them sign a consent form to participate.

To determine what group participants will belong to, hand them an initial questionnaire that asks about the type of computer they typically use and requires them to write descriptions of average PC and Mac users. Note that the narratives will be used later as a manipulation check.

Randomly assign them to one of three membership compositions: in-, out-, or mixed-groups. Tell participant 1, assigned to an in-group, "The other two players you’ll interact with are also PC users." and participant 2, an out-group member, "The other two players you’ll interact with prefer using a PC.".

Now, before leaving the room, start the Cyberball game on the computer. While both groups are initially included in throwing the ball, starting on the fifth throw, those randomly assigned to the ostracism condition are excluded compared to those who remain included.

When the game has finished, enter the room and launch the second part of the study, a perception task, but continue to let the participant believe that this is the primary experiment.

Instruct them to click on the spinning wheel to determine their respondent number, even though the wheel is rigged to always stop at the 6th position. Continue to discuss the task and walk-through an example. Explain that on each trial, they will see a simple shape for 5 s, after which it disappears, and then reappears embedded within one of six complex figures.

For a correct response, ask them to identify the one that contains the original shape by clicking the corresponding button. Critically, explain that since they are respondent 6, they must wait their turn to respond in sequential order. Then, leave the room.

After the participant has completed the six trials in the perception task, both critical and non-critical, re-enter the room and have them complete the post-experimental questionnaire, which includes measures related to the number of perceived throws the participant received and feelings of belonging on a 9-point scale.

Finally, fully debrief participants regarding the purpose and procedures of the study by explaining the ostracism manipulations, the computer-generated partners, and the conformity ruse.

After organizing all the data, create three separate graphs for each variable. First plot the averaged perceived percentage of throws across group membership conditions, separated by inclusion and ostracism.

Similarly plot the averaged scores related to feelings of belonging, as well as the percentage of trials that participants conformed on during the critical ones.

Compared to participants who were included, those who were ostracized reported receiving fewer throws, lower feelings of belonging, and conformed on a higher percentage of trials.

While the effects of group membership were not as clear, notable interactions existed for the first two measures: individuals in the in-group condition did not significantly differ between the inclusion and ostracism groups.

However, participants who were ostracized in the in-group still conformed significantly more than individuals who were included.

Overall, these results are striking given that players were not directly communicating face to face, yet the momentary exclusion produced robust affective and behavioral consequences.

Now that you are familiar with how to induce feelings of ostracism even without direct communication, let’s look at additional ways to investigate this powerful social phenomenon, including the underlying neural responses and downstream behavioral consequences.

Ostracism is apparent across all age groups. From social exclusion on the playground, to romantic rejection as an adult, this social phenomenon threatens our human need feel included.

Researchers have found that the pain of ostracism is less intense in older adults than in young, which may suggest that as we get older, we focus more on close social partners and have less concern about exclusion from strangers.

Further, the reactions to being ostracized can have many variants. Researchers have identified that while some individuals feel the need to ingratiate themselves to their ostracizer, others can become more aggressive in the response to the exclusion in an attempt to feel more in control.

Alternatively, it can cause an individual to feel depressed and alienated, with a negative impact on their self-esteem. This suggests that while ostracism leaves no trace of physical pain, the affective impact of social pain is strong.

Lastly, this task has also been used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging to pinpoint the neural correlates underlying the feelings of ostracism.

Researchers found that the anterior cingulate cortex, the ACC, and right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, vmPFC, were more active during exclusion. However, each region showed opposite correlations with distress. Such findings suggest that the vmPFC regulates the distress of social exclusion by disrupting activity in the ACC.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s video on ostracism. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design, conduct, and analyze an experiment to study just how this social phenomenon impacts feelings of belonging and promotes conformity into groups in which individuals were excluded from.

Thanks for watching!

Results

In the original Williams, Cheung, and Choi investigation in 2000, the authors observed strong main effects of ostracism across three key dependent variables. Participants who were ostracized reported receiving fewer throws, reported feeling lower feelings of belonging, and conformed on a higher percentage of trials, compared to participants who were included (Figure 1).

While the effects of group membership were somewhat more mixed, the authors reported two interactions between ostracism and group membership, one concerning the manipulation check and one concerning feelings of belonging. Specifically, individuals in the in-group condition did not show significant differences between perceived throws received between the ostracism and inclusion groups, nor they differ in terms of feelings of belonging. Nevertheless, participants who were ostracized in in-group groups still conformed significantly more than individuals who were included.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Means for three dependent variables (perceived percentage of throws, feelings of belonging, and percentage of trials conformed to) as a function of the type of interaction (inclusion or ostracism) and group memberships (in-group, out-group, and mixed-group). The figure on the left shows that targets of ostracism correctly perceived that they received less throws. Moreover, the figures in the middle and right show that targets of ostracism reported lower feelings of belonging and were more likely to conform to the unanimous incorrect judgments of a new group.

Applications and Summary

Based on these results, Williams and colleagues concluded that they had successfully developed a tool for robustly inducing feelings of social ostracism in participants, even without direct face-to-face interaction. Indeed, in their investigation, being excluded over the internet led participants to feel less belonging, and in turn, led participants to conform to the beliefs of a new group of individuals. The authors interpreted this behavior as an attempt to reaffirm feelings of belonging. These results are striking given the relative simplicity of the context of ostracism. Players do not communicate, they cannot see each other, and they have no reason to believe that they will ever interact again. Yet momentary exclusion produces robust affective and behavioral consequences.

Ostracism is a powerful and salient social signal. When we are ostracized, we feel upset, excluded, and unsure of our place in the social hierarchy. As such, we may take steps to restore that place—either by attempting to get back into the good graces of the ostracizer, or by finding new acceptance elsewhere. The Cyberball task represents a robust and efficient means of inducing these feelings experimentally, either through a laboratory set-up, or conducted remotely over the internet.

As the task itself is relatively decontextualized, any number of modifications might be made to any aspect of it (e.g., the instructions, the players, the nature of the ball-tossing interaction) to test various hypotheses. The induction might be used to test various responses to ostracism, both anti-social (e.g., aggression) and pro-social (e.g., ingratiation). The task might be used (and indeed has by some authors) to examine the physiological components8 and neural bases supporting social ostracism.9 Finally, the original authors have suggested that while in its original inception, Cyberball is used to manipulate feelings of ostracism, it might also be used as a dependent measure (e.g., of prejudice or altruism), by focusing on participants’ choices to include or exclude the other players.

References

  1. Gruter, M., & Masters, R. D. (1986). Ostracism as a social and biological phenomenon: An introduction. Ethology and Sociobiology, 7, 149-158.
  2. Williams, K. D., & Sommer, K. L. (1997). Social ostracism by coworkers: Does rejection lead to loafing or compensation? Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 693-706.
  3. Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K. T., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 79, 748-762.
  4. 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.
  5. Williams, K. D. (1997). Social ostracism. In R. Kowalski (Ed.), Aversive interpersonal behaviors (pp. 133-170). New York: Plenum.
  6. Williams, K. D., & Jarvis, B. (2006). Cyberball: A program for use in research on interpersonal ostracism and acceptance. Behavior research methods, 38, 174-180.
  7. Zadro, L., Williams, K. D., & Richardson, R. (2004). How low can you go? Ostracism by a computer is sufficient to lower self-reported levels of belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 560-567.
  8. Kelly, M., McDonald, S., & Rushby, J. (2012). All alone with sweaty palms—Physiological arousal and ostracism. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 83, 309-314.
  9. Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302, 290-292.

1. Recruiting Participants

  1. Conduct a power analysis and recruit a sufficient number of participants (approximately 20/group) to cover six different experimental conditions, and, if desired, two additional control conditions (Table 1).
In-Group Out-Group Mixed-Group
Exclusion (1) Excluded from a group composed of two in-group members (2) Excluded from a group composed of two out-group members (3) Excluded from a group composed of one in-group and one out-group member
Inclusion (4) Included in a group composed of two in-group members (5) Included in a group composed of two out-group members (6) Included in a group composed of one in-group and one out-group member
Additional Control
Conditions
(if desired)
(7) Participants complete just the perception task, and perform it alone, to determine baseline performance in that task, independent of conformity (see step 11). (8) Participants complete just the perception task with group responses, to determine baseline influence of conformity pressure, independent of exclusion or inclusion (see step 11).

2. Data Collection

  1. Run participants individually.
  2. Seat the participant in front of a computer that is connected to the internet and open the Cyberball program.
  3. Instruct the participant that they will be taking part in computerized task, and that they should read the directions carefully.
  4. Describe the purpose of the experiment as comparing perceptual abilities of PC versus Mac users.
  5. Inform the participant that they will be interacting with other players who are simultaneously logged onto the study over the internet. Note: The original investigation was performed over the internet, with participants logging in remotely rather than performing the experiment in the laboratory.
  6. Have each participant sign a consent form to participate.
  7. Request that participants fill out a pre-experimental questionnaire, in which they are asked to specify which type of computer they typically use (i.e., Mac or PC) and to write brief descriptions of average PC users and average Mac users.
    1. Use these descriptions later as a manipulation check to determine whether participants make more positive comments about players who used the same type of computer as they do.
  8. Randomly assign participants to one of the three strength of group-ties-manipulation conditions prior to beginning the Cyberball game: in-group, out-group, or mixed-group.
    1. Specifically, tell participants that the other two players theyll be interacting with are either a) both PC users, b) both Mac users, or c) one of each. For participants that are PC users, this creates in-group, out-group and mixed-group conditions, respectively. For Mac users, this creates out-group, in-group, and mixed-group conditions, respectively.
  9. Leave the room once the participant begins the Cyberball game.
    1. The Cyberball game should be described as a means to an end-specifically, as merely a task that should help participants exercise their mental visualization skills, which they will purportedly use in the subsequent experimental task.
    2. The game depicts three ball-tossers, the middle one representing the participant. The game is animated and shows the icon throwing a ball to one of the other two. When the ball is tossed to the participant, they are instructed to click on one of the other two icons to indicate their intended recipient, and the ball then moves toward that icon.
  10. Make sure the Cyberball task is set to randomly assign the participant to one of two “ostracism-manipulation” conditions: inclusion or complete ostracism.
    1. The program will hold the first three throws of the game constant across all conditions, always starting off with the participant in possession of the ball.  
      1. In the original experiment, the task was set to 10 throws in total. Subsequent versions of the task have increased the number of throws for additional statistical power (e.g., 40 throws).7 If the experimenter has a large enough sample size within each condition, fewer trials are acceptable; however, if not, additional trials are certainly desirable.
    2. Subsequently, every player is given the chance to throw and catch the ball once.
    3. On the fourth throw, the participant will once again be in possession of the ball and have the chance to throw it to either of the two computer players.
    4. From the fifth throw onwards, participants are randomly assigned by a predetermined algorithm to either be included or ostracized.
      1. If in the in the inclusion condition, the participant will continue to receive the ball for a third of the throws.
      2. If in the ostracism condition, the participant will not be thrown the ball again.
    5. The primary dependent variable of Cyberball is participants perceptions of the percentage of time they were thrown to.
  11. To provide insight into how participants might perform on the perception task in absence of ostracism and peer influence, the original authors also ran two sets of control participants that did not perform the Cyberball task, but instead, went straight to the perception task.
    1. While these control conditions were included in the original research, and offer an additional degree of experimental control, they are not strictly necessary to include. However, to replicate these conditions, follow the instructions below.
      1. Have one set of control participants skip the Cyberball task, and proceed directly to a version of the perception task which does not include the other five respondents (e.g., so there is no pressure to conform to peer influence).
    2. Have a second set of control participants also skip the Cyberball task, and proceed directly to the group perception task as described. These data allow the researcher to determine the directionality of their effects (i.e., does ostracism increase conformity, or does inclusion decrease it?).
  12. After the Cyberball game, re-enter the testing room to launch the second part of the study, which the participant should believe to be the primary experiment-a computerized perception task.
  13.  Instruct them to click a number on the rotating wheel to determine which respondent number they will be assigned.
    1. The wheel should be rigged to always stop at the No. 6 position, so that all participants are (ostensibly randomly) assigned to be the sixth person in a new, six-person group that will be asked to make judgments regarding six perceptual comparisons.
  14. Next, provide the participant with an overview of the perception task with a visual example.
    1. Explain that on each trial, a simple geometric figure (like a triangle) will appear on the screen for 5 s, after which it will disappear, followed by six complex figures that will also be displayed on the screen for 5 s. The initial, simple geometric figure will be embedded in one of the six complex figures.
    2. Instruct the participant that their task is to identify the correct figure (i.e., the complex figure containing the initial, simple figure) from the six by clicking on the appropriate button.
    3. Critically, make clear to the participant, that since they are Respondent #6, while waiting for their turn to respond, other users' responses will appear sequentially on the screen.
    4. When "Respondent Number 6" appears on the screen, have the participant enter their response.
  15. Once the participant understands the directions, begin the perception task.
    1. Trials 1 and 2 of the perception task should be easier than the ones that follow, in order to familiarize participants with the demands of the task.
    2. Trials 3, 4, and 6 are the critical trials of the task. On these trials, the other “players” should be preprogrammed to display unanimously incorrect responses.
    3. On the other trials (Trials 1, 2, and 5), the other members should make unanimously correct responses.
    4. The primary dependent variable of the perception task is conformity. Simply calculate the percentage of times that each participant conforms with the unanimous wrong answers provided by the group on Trials 3, 4, and 6.
  16. Afterwards, ask the participant to complete a post-experimental questionnaire on the computer.
    1. Make sure this questionnaire contains several manipulation checks, and measures feelings of belonging.
      1. As a manipulation check, ask participants to report on perceptions of the number of throws they received, as well as whether their co-partners were using a Mac, or PC, or one of each.
      2. To assess belonging, ask participants to rate the extent to which they felt a sense of belonging with their co-partners on a 9-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 9 (very much).
      3. The primary dependent variable of the questionnaire is feeling of belonging. Average the ratings given by groups.
  17. Fully debrief the participant regarding the purpose and procedures of the study.
    1. In particular, explain the ostracism manipulations, the computer-generated partners, and the conformity ruse.
    2. Provide your contact information to the participant, in case they have further questions or concerns.

3. Data Analysis

  1. After running all participants, examine how a) participants perceptions of the percentage of time they were thrown to (essentially a manipulation check), b) feelings of belonging, and c) conformity vary as a function of both ostracism/inclusion and group composition.
    1. To do so, perform three separate via 2 (ostracism vs. inclusion) x 3 (group composition: in-group, out-group, mixed group) ANOVAs on these dependent variables.
    2. In addition, analyze the responses from the pre-experimental questionnaire, via a 2 (group membership: Mac or PC) x 2 (target group: Mac or PC) mixed ANOVA, to confirm that on average, participants rated in-group members more positively than out-group members.

Most people want to be socially connected and included with others. Researchers can examine what happens when the opposite occurs—being ignored and excluded—which is known as ostracism.

With the rise of social media, the experience of ostracism has become ubiquitous. For example, during a browsing session, an individual may see pictures from a party that they apparently weren’t invited to attend.

On account of her perceived absence, she unleashes a whirlwind of emotions, including sadness, anxiety, arousal, and hurt feelings. As irrational as it seems, the internet-based observation—not even in-person—was enough to thwart core desires of belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence.

This video demonstrates how to establish group connections, induce ostracism in a laboratory setting using a computerized game Cyberball, and measure the subsequent effects on conformity and feelings of belonging based on the original experiment from Williams, Cheung, and Choi.

This experiment consists of three parts: establishing group membership ties, inducing ostracism, and examining the effects on conformity and belonging.

In Phase 1, group membership, all participants are given an initial questionnaire, which probes the computer platform they use. In addition, they are asked to write brief descriptions of what they think both groups of users are like. This latter portion serves as a manipulation check to see if participants make more positive comments about others who use same computer as they do.

To manipulate the strength of group ties, participants are then are given different interaction assignments. They are put into an in-group—where all players use the same type, an out-group—the others prefer the opposite, or a mixed group.

During Phase 2, critical for inducing ostracism, participants play a computerized game called Cyberball, where there are three animated characters tossing and catching a ball. When it’s tossed to the participant—represented as the middle player—they are instructed to click on the intended recipient of their choice.

Within the first three throws of the game, the participant always starts off with possession of the ball. Subsequently, every player is given the chance to throw and catch the ball once.

On the fourth throw, the participant will once again be in possession of the ball and choose who to throw it to. From the fifth throw and onwards, participants are randomly assigned by a predetermined algorithm to either be included or ostracized.

Participants in the inclusion conditions will continue to receive the ball for a third of the throws, whereas those in the ostracism conditions will not be thrown the ball again.

In Phase 3—what participants are told is the real primary task involving perceptual comparisons—another computerized task is carried out. Here, they think that they are choosing their line-up number within a new six-person group, when in reality, the spinning wheel is rigged to stop at the sixth position.

For each trial, a simple geometric figure—like a triangle—appears on the screen, then disappears, and reappears embedded within one of six complex figures. Participants are asked to identify the correct figure—that is, the complex one containing the initial simple shape.

Since all participants in the study respond last, they will see how the "others" reply across six trials. During the 1st, 2nd, and 5th, the other members should make only correct responses. However, on trials 3, 4, and 6, the "other players" are programmed to display unanimously incorrect answers.

These latter three are critical because they represent a dependent measure of conformity to the group, calculated as the percentage of incorrect responses participants make. It’s expected that those who are ostracized will conform to the wrong answers on more trials compared to participants who are included.

Afterwards, a final questionnaire is given and includes two other dependent variables: the number of perceived throws the participant received and feelings of belonging with their respective group, assessed on a rating scale from 1 (not at all) to 9 (very much).

Based on the initial narratives provided, participants are expected to rate in-group members more positively than those in the out-group. However, those who are ostracized are predicted to report receiving fewer throws and lower ratings of belonging compared to those who are included.

These results would suggest that being ignored during a computerized task—even without face-to-face communication—is enough to robustly induce feelings of social ostracism in participants.

Prior to the experiment, conduct a power analysis to recruit a sufficient number of participants for this two by three design. To begin, escort one participant at a time into the testing room.

First inform them that they are going to complete a computerized task that will compare perceptual abilities of PC vs. Mac users. Let them know that they will be interacting with other players who are simultaneously logged into the study over the internet. After answering any questions, have them sign a consent form to participate.

To determine what group participants will belong to, hand them an initial questionnaire that asks about the type of computer they typically use and requires them to write descriptions of average PC and Mac users. Note that the narratives will be used later as a manipulation check.

Randomly assign them to one of three membership compositions: in-, out-, or mixed-groups. Tell participant 1, assigned to an in-group, "The other two players you’ll interact with are also PC users." and participant 2, an out-group member, "The other two players you’ll interact with prefer using a PC.".

Now, before leaving the room, start the Cyberball game on the computer. While both groups are initially included in throwing the ball, starting on the fifth throw, those randomly assigned to the ostracism condition are excluded compared to those who remain included.

When the game has finished, enter the room and launch the second part of the study, a perception task, but continue to let the participant believe that this is the primary experiment.

Instruct them to click on the spinning wheel to determine their respondent number, even though the wheel is rigged to always stop at the 6th position. Continue to discuss the task and walk-through an example. Explain that on each trial, they will see a simple shape for 5 s, after which it disappears, and then reappears embedded within one of six complex figures.

For a correct response, ask them to identify the one that contains the original shape by clicking the corresponding button. Critically, explain that since they are respondent 6, they must wait their turn to respond in sequential order. Then, leave the room.

After the participant has completed the six trials in the perception task, both critical and non-critical, re-enter the room and have them complete the post-experimental questionnaire, which includes measures related to the number of perceived throws the participant received and feelings of belonging on a 9-point scale.

Finally, fully debrief participants regarding the purpose and procedures of the study by explaining the ostracism manipulations, the computer-generated partners, and the conformity ruse.

After organizing all the data, create three separate graphs for each variable. First plot the averaged perceived percentage of throws across group membership conditions, separated by inclusion and ostracism.

Similarly plot the averaged scores related to feelings of belonging, as well as the percentage of trials that participants conformed on during the critical ones.

Compared to participants who were included, those who were ostracized reported receiving fewer throws, lower feelings of belonging, and conformed on a higher percentage of trials.

While the effects of group membership were not as clear, notable interactions existed for the first two measures: individuals in the in-group condition did not significantly differ between the inclusion and ostracism groups.

However, participants who were ostracized in the in-group still conformed significantly more than individuals who were included.

Overall, these results are striking given that players were not directly communicating face to face, yet the momentary exclusion produced robust affective and behavioral consequences.

Now that you are familiar with how to induce feelings of ostracism even without direct communication, let’s look at additional ways to investigate this powerful social phenomenon, including the underlying neural responses and downstream behavioral consequences.

Ostracism is apparent across all age groups. From social exclusion on the playground, to romantic rejection as an adult, this social phenomenon threatens our human need feel included.

Researchers have found that the pain of ostracism is less intense in older adults than in young, which may suggest that as we get older, we focus more on close social partners and have less concern about exclusion from strangers.

Further, the reactions to being ostracized can have many variants. Researchers have identified that while some individuals feel the need to ingratiate themselves to their ostracizer, others can become more aggressive in the response to the exclusion in an attempt to feel more in control.

Alternatively, it can cause an individual to feel depressed and alienated, with a negative impact on their self-esteem. This suggests that while ostracism leaves no trace of physical pain, the affective impact of social pain is strong.

Lastly, this task has also been used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging to pinpoint the neural correlates underlying the feelings of ostracism.

Researchers found that the anterior cingulate cortex, the ACC, and right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, vmPFC, were more active during exclusion. However, each region showed opposite correlations with distress. Such findings suggest that the vmPFC regulates the distress of social exclusion by disrupting activity in the ACC.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s video on ostracism. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design, conduct, and analyze an experiment to study just how this social phenomenon impacts feelings of belonging and promotes conformity into groups in which individuals were excluded from.

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