It is human nature to be empathetic and avoid hurting others unless felt threatened.
Nicole Legate, a graduate student at University of Rochester along with her colleagues studied the psychological consequences faced when one is forced to comply with demands such as excluding people based on social stigmas.
Researchers set up an experiment with the help of an online throw-catch ball game, Cyberball, in which each participant throws the ball to two other players. The participants were made to believe that they were playing with two other real people offsite, while the two players were actually virtual computer programs.
The study involved 152 participants randomly assigned to different game scenarios. The ostracizer group was instructed not to throw the ball to a certain player, while the compliance group was asked to throw the ball equally to both players. Another set of participants were ostracized and were excluded by the computer players.
The psychological conditions of the participants were evaluated using a survey. The results showed that people who were disregarded in the game, though by some stranger, felt depressed and angry. While the participants who were forced to ostracize also had negative moods with a sense of guilt, shame and they felt socially detached.
"Our results highlight that it goes against the grain of people's psychological needs to exclude others," says Ryan, co-author of the study.
The authors suggest further probe into the dynamics of ostracism and its consequences.