Maintaining positive social relationships is important for individuals' well being. Despite this, people often experience social exclusion (colloquially referred to as "ostracism"). The experience of social exclusion makes people feel that they do not belong and leaves them wanting to re-connect. Rather than attempting to connect with just anyone, research shows that excluded people pick certain individuals. Specifically, they focus their attention on the identification of the best and most receptive re-affiliation partners. As a result, people who are excluded, compared to those who are not, are more likely to evaluate people based on their individual characteristics and personalities -- a process called "individuation" -- rather than characteristics based on beliefs about their group memberships -- a process called "stereotyping." Three lines of research will examine the relation between social exclusion and individuation. These studies will examine several different stereotyped groups, using multiple methods of social exclusion. Specific experiments will investigate (1) the role of the desire to reconnect in producing greater individuation after exclusion, (2) the circumstances under which exclusion is more and less likely to trigger individuation, and (3) the role that social exclusion plays in maintaining stereotypes.
While extensive bodies of literature exist on social exclusion as well as the processing of group-based information such as stereotypes, the proposed research will be the first to synthesize these two areas of social psychology. Moreover, the proposed work will also further education and broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science. For instance, several undergraduate and graduate students will aid in conducting, analyzing, and disseminating the proposed research. Many of these students will come from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, such as women, racial minorities, and those from less affluent backgrounds.
Finally, research shows that exclusion can trigger aggressive responses in both the laboratory and real-world settings. Some scholars suggest that social exclusion may be a contributing factor to tragedies such as school shootings. To help prevent excluded individuals from engaging in destructive actions, the proposed research could help scientists identify ways that excluded individuals can cope positively. Though many factors likely determine which victims of exclusion cope well and which do not, one factor may concern how they subsequently think about others following exclusion. Excluded individuals who evaluate others carefully (e.g., via individuation) may cope better with exclusion by finding new friends and therefore may be less likely to lash out. Encouraging the excluded to individuate others may provide one method of fostering adaptive coping. These efforts could prove especially useful in schools where incidents of bullying and exclusion are common. Therefore, the current work may help researchers understand how individuals handle exclusion and, ultimately, could provide strategies to deploy in schools and other relevant settings to defend against exclusion's potentially damaging consequences.