Are you being treated like a social outcast?

With our documentary film interview coming up with Kipling D. Williams, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University, social exclusion and ostracism is on my mind.  What is social exclusion anyway?  An excepted definition is:

“Social exclusion is the process in which individuals or entire communities of people are systematically blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of a different group, and which are fundamental to social integration within that particular group (e.g., housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation, and due process).”

And there’s more…social exclusion has many contributors. Major contributors include race, income, employment status, social class, geographic location, personal habits and appearance, sexual orientation, education, religion and political affiliation.  Okay, with all that said, how can social exclusion effect you and your family?  And does being treated as a “social outcast” affect my emotional state?

The short answer is, we’ve all been treated as an outcast in one way or another, some more serious than others. Being treated differently and being excluded from groups, opportunities and resources does affect your emotional and well being in various ways.  Social rejection increases anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness. It reduces performance on difficult intellectual tasks, and can also contribute to aggression and poor impulse control. Physically, too, rejection takes a toll. People who routinely feel excluded have poorer sleep quality, and their immune systems don’t function as well as those of people with strong social connections.  Through his research on social exclusion, Williams has verified the link between being ostracized and aggression.  Williams’s student Lisa Zadro, PhD, now at the University of Sydney in Australia, interviewed 50 people who were either ostracized or perpetrators of ostracism. Those who’d been ostracized reported depression, eating disorders, promiscuity disorders and even attempted suicide. Almost all said that they would have preferred physical abuse to ostracism.  In addition, researchers find that all you have to do is relive a past ostracism episode, or even imagine a future event, and you will feel psychological agony. So intense is the pain of ostracism that even being rejected from a despised group makes people upset. Observing ostracism distresses even bystanders.

Maslow's Hierarchy_of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy_of Needs

We can dive deeper by studying Abraham Maslow and the famous hierarchy of needs model. Maslow and other theorists have suggested that the need for love and belongingness is a fundamental human motivation.  According to Maslow, all humans, even introverts, need to be able to give and receive affection to be psychologically healthy.  Diving deeper is where we would find peer rejection in childhood and the connection between ostracism and violence.  An analysis of 15 school shootings between 1995 and 2001 found that peer rejection was present in all but two of the cases (87%). The documented rejection experiences included both acute and chronic rejection and frequently took the form of ostracism, bullying, and romantic rejection.


So why do we sometimes go against what is recommended by numerous theorists when relating and socializing with friends, families, co-workers and even strangers?  A little history of human nature may help to clarify.  Some researchers think belonging to a group was probably helpful to our ancestors. We have weak claws, little fur, and long childhoods; living in a group helped early humans survive harsh environments. Because of that, being part of a group still helps people feel safe and protected, even when walls and clothing have made it easier for one man to be an island entire of himself.  Basically, social rejection and ostracism is part of human nature, according to researchers.  It’s when it goes to far (as we have seen throughout history) when it becomes a problem not just for the ostracized individual, but for society as a whole.

This scene of the Admonitions Scroll shows an emperor turning away from his consort, his hand raised in a gesture of rejection and with a look of disdain on his face

This scene of the Admonitions Scroll shows an emperor turning away from his consort, his hand raised in a gesture of rejection and with a look of disdain on his face

As we interview Williams for our upcoming documentary, NOT FOR RENT!, we will be focusing on the effects of social ostracism on individuals with criminal records and the rejection these men and woman face in the community, especially with rental housing.  In addition to social exclusion, ex-offenders sometimes carry a “social stigma” because of their past crimes.  We’ll also talk with Williams about Cyberball, an open-source virtual ball-toss game that can be used for research on ostracism, social exclusion or rejection. It has also been used to study discrimination and prejudice (free download).

I could write and write all day about this very important subject.  Today, I covered only a brief look at social exclusion and how it affects everyone on earth in one way or another.  Please like our blog and our Facebook page to stay updated on our interview with Kipling Williams and our documentary film, NOT FOR RENT!, due out spring of 2017.

Matt Duhamel Metamora Films

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