Being left out hurts!

[By Julia Mermier]

Being left out, whether it is through ostracism (being ignored and excluded; [1]), rejection (being explicitly communicated that we are not wanted; [1]), or social exclusion (being kept apart from others; [1]), is always an extremely aversive experience. It threatens primary needs such as belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence, in adults [2; 3] as well as in children [4], and leads to pain or distress. Interestingly, research on adults has shown activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex when experiencing ostracism, the same region of the brain that is activated when experiencing physical pain [5].

How do we study ostracism/ rejection/ social exclusion?

There are several widely used methods to study ostracism, rejection, and social exclusion in adults and children. The main method used to induce ostracism is the Cyberball [6], an online ball-tossing game in which participants believe they are playing with other 2 or 3 participants, which are in fact computer-generated. In this game, participants are either included (i.e. they receive the ball a third of the time), or ostracized (i.e. they only receive the ball at the beginning and are then ignored during the rest of the game). This method has been shown to have very strong effects on adults and children, to the extent that merely witnessing someone else being ostracized is enough to induce negative psychological and physiological responses in the observer [7]. Other paradigms are used to prompt social exclusion in adult participants, such as keeping them out of a chat conversation [8], or assigning them messages of exclusion (e.g. “you will likely end up alone in life”; [9]).

What are the cognitive and behavioral consequences of being left out?

Being ostracized, excluded or rejected greatly affects adults’ and children’s cognition and behavior.  In addition to threaten fundamental needs and decrease the mood, ostracism has been found to decrease cognitive abilities on effortful logic, reasoning, and memory tasks in both adults [9] and children [10]. On the other hand, ostracized adults and children showed increased performances in social tasks, such as heightened memory of social (as compared to non-social) events [11] and enhanced accuracy in identifying vocal tone and facial emotions [12]. These findings are thought to reflect an allocation of cognitive resources towards social abilities, at the expense of other non-social competences, as an attempt to re-affiliate after being excluded. Ostracism has also be shown to considerably modulate people’s behavior in order to facilitate their re-inclusion. For example, adults were more compliant when requested to donate money [13] and display higher levels of facial mimicry [14] after being excluded. After observing videos depicting ostracism, children also showed more action imitation [15], and even sat closer to a stranger than children who observed inclusion videos [16]!

In conclusion, being the (temporary) target of, or witnessing ostracism/exclusion/rejection unleashes a series of psychological, cognitive and behavioral changes. These changes promote pro-social behaviors, enhance social cognitive abilities, and are aimed at facilitating re-inclusion. However, when repeated or sustained over long periods, exclusion can have opposite repercussions and lead to aggressive and anti-social behaviors.



[1] Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 58, 425-452.

[2] Williams, K. D., & Nida, S. A. (2011). Ostracism: Consequences and coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 71-75.

[3] Hartgerink, C. H., Van Beest, I., Wicherts, J. M., & Williams, K. D. (2015). The ordinal effects of ostracism: A meta-analysis of 120 Cyberball studies. PloS one, 10(5), e0127002.

[4] Abrams, D., Weick, M., Thomas, D., Colbe, H., & Franklin, K. M. (2011). On‐line ostracism affects children differently from adolescents and adults. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 110-123.

[5] Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290-292.

[6] Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 748.

[7] Wesselmann, E. D., Bagg, D., & Williams, K. D. (2009). “I feel your pain”: The effects of observing ostracism on the ostracism detection system. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(6), 1308-1311.

[8] Gardner, W. L., 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(4), 486-496.

[9] Baumeister, R. F., Twenge, J. M., & Nuss, C. K. (2002). Effects of social exclusion on cognitive processes: anticipated aloneness reduces intelligent thought. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(4), 817.

[10] Hawes, D. J., Zadro, L., Fink, E., Richardson, R., O’Moore, K., Griffiths, B., … & Williams, K. D. (2012). The effects of peer ostracism on children’s cognitive processes. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(5), 599-613.

[11] Marinović, V., & Träuble, B. (2018). Vicarious social exclusion and memory in young children. Developmental psychology, 54(11), 2067.

[12] 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(9), 1095-1107.

[13] Carter‐Sowell, A. R., Chen, Z., & Williams, K. D. (2008). Ostracism increases social susceptibility. Social Influence, 3(3), 143-153.

[14] Cheung, E. O., Slotter, E. B., & Gardner, W. L. (2015). Are you feeling what I’m feeling? The role of facial mimicry in facilitating reconnection following social exclusion. Motivation and Emotion, 39(4), 613-630.

[15] Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2009). Priming third‐party ostracism increases affiliative imitation in children. Developmental science, 12(3), F1-F8.

[16] Marinović, V., Wahl, S., & Träuble, B. (2017). “Next to you”—Young children sit closer to a person following vicarious ostracism. Journal of experimental child psychology, 156, 179-185.

How critical are critical periods

[By: Aude Carteron]

‘Critical period’, ‘sensitive period’, ‘optimum period’… You may not be familiar with these terms, yet I’m sure you have heard of the idea: for example, an adult will struggle to master a second language while younger children can do so easily. Are there such critical time periods to learn something, say, to play the piano, basketball or synchronised swimming?

Read more

Why taking care of yourself is important for your child

[By: Sayaka Kidby]

It’s been almost a year since many countries went into lockdown in response to the fast spread of coronavirus. I hope you all are keeping well and safe. Even if you or your loved ones haven’t contracted the virus, many of us are affected in various ways by this pandemic. According to a report by University College London, more than two thirds of UK adults reported various level of worries and anxieties during the pandemic[i]. Moreover, it is reported that 70% of parents felt the changes caused by the pandemic were affecting their unborn baby or young child (e.g., increased crying and/or tantrums, being clingier)[ii].

Read more

“Technoference”, or how screen time affects your parenting.

[By Penny Bounia-Mastrogianni]

Spoiler Alert: Not positively.

Children’s screen time has been extensively researched during the previous two decades, and it has often been implicated in many undesirable psychological and educational outcomes. For a change, I decided to write some thoughts and relevant findings focusing on the effects that smartphones’ usage – and technology in a wider sense – has on parental behaviour instead. Welcome to my short guilt trip. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Read more

How far in their periphery can babies see?

[by Chiara Capparini]

When thinking about vision, we often refer to central vision, which offers the most spatial resolution and visual acuity. Conversely, our visual field can extend to over 90-100° and we receive a considerable amount of visual inputs from peripheral locations [1]. I know, information coming from the edge of the visual field is not as detailed as what we get from central vision, but many everyday activities – such as driving, navigating the environment, detecting a threat, or even dancing – would be highly impaired without peripheral vision.

And what about infants? Shall we assume that infants’ visual field is comparable to ours? Interestingly, human newborns prefer to orient towards peripheral locations [2]. Nonetheless, research has shown that peripheral vision seems to be progressively developing during the first postnatal year of life [3].

To test this, we recorded the behaviour of a group of 9-month-olds who viewed sequences made of a central stimulus followed by a peripheral patch appearing at a random location from 35˚ to 60˚ to the left or the right of the central stimulus. We measured head and eyes orientations to peripheral targets at different locations to understand whether infants could reliably perceive the target or not. We also tested a control group of adults on a similar task. This time, we asked participants to press a key to indicate left or right detection.

We found that babies’ peripheral vision is still developing at nine months of age. Infant performance was unequal across peripheral locations and it was hard for babies to perceive something appearing beyond 50˚. In contrast, adult performance was optimal across all the investigated locations [4].

What does this study tell us? Infants do not have the same visual field that we have. Nevertheless, their visual field is already wide and many everyday activities can benefit from it. For instance, this can help babies to actively gather more information from the surrounding space, improve balance and achieve new motor milestones.


 [1] To, M. P. S., Regan, B. C., Wood, D., & Mollon, J. D. (2011). Vision out of the corner of the eye. Vision Research51(1), 203-214.
[2] Johnson, M., & De Haan, M. (2015). Vision, orienting, and attention. In Developmental cognitive neuroscience: An introduction (pp. 83-109). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
[3] Maurer, D., & Lewis, T. L. (1991). The development of peripheral vision and its physiological underpinnings. In M. J. S. Weiss & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.), Newborn attention: Biological constraints and the influence of experience (pp. 218–255). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
[4] Capparini, C., To, M., & Reid, V. (2020, July 6-9). Exploring infants’ sensitivity to low-level visual information across the visual field [Poster session]. International Congress of Infant Studies, Glasgow, UK.

Photo reference
Photo by Rasmus Svinding from Pexels

Our second online training school

[By: Joanna Rutkowska]

As the MOTION ESRs, we are receiving the best training our PIs can provide for us. With the pandemic still going on, we have to resort to having our training schools online. Last months’ training school was organised by the University of London Birkbeck and took place mostly on Zoom.

Read more

How subtle characteristics of our language can shape children’s social perception

[By: Lisanne Schröer]

Most of us are cautious with our language in front of toddlers and young children. We don’t want to risk that the child will imitate our offensive words. However, there are more reasons to be careful with language around young children. Recently, scientists have found evidence that more subtle characteristics of our language influence how children see themselves and the social world around them.

“Let’s be a scientist!” or “Let’s do science!”

Read more

Baby summer read for grown-ups

[By: Aude Carteron]

Summer wouldn’t be summer without book recommendations, and I wanted to tell you about the refreshing vacation read brought to you by ‘The Laughing Baby’ by Caspar Addyman. Perfect when paired with a deckchair and total sunblock.

You come for the catchy title, you stay for the entertainment of enthralling topics written in a captivating and fluid style. Add to this Caspar’s highly contagious enthusiasm for his field. If the heat is keeping you away from your summer workout goals, the book will at least exercise your cheek muscles through its wit as well as its up-lifting and moving messages.

Read more

Do babies know if you are a helpful person? Here’s what we found.

[By: Sayaka Kidby]

You may have heard the phrase that babies are little scientists or active learners. They seem to be dependent upon other people in so many ways; they need to be fed, they need to be moved (before they start crawling) and they need to be soothed when they get upset. But at the same time, they have this remarkable ability to learn an incredible amount by looking around the world and hearing other people.

What is impressive is that they do not seem to simply take in everything they see or hear [1]. Previous research has shown that babies and toddlers can choose whom to learn from. For example, copying other people’s behaviour (imitation) is an important way of learning for little ones. They only imitate actions of those who previously performed it competently and confidently, but not actions of those who seemed uncertain about what they were doing [1,2].

Much less is known about whether this selective learning occurs in much younger babies, whose motor skills are still limited.

Read more

Home (not) alone – how did children deal with quarantine?

[By: Penny Bounia-Mastrogianni] 

For some of us MOTION early-stage researchers, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by moving back to our home countries in a rush and under great uncertainty. I decided to return to Greece and to my family, where, by interacting with my very young sister and other families with children, I realized how many children and adolescents probably had a much harder time mentally coping with the situation than us adults. So I decided to write some thoughts on this challenging reality that many parents and caregivers faced and keep facing.

Read more