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Effects of Ostracism and Stigma on Self-Esteem

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Principal Investigator(s):

Stephanie Goodwin
Wright State University

Kipling Williams
Purdue University
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Sample size: 317



Recent evidence suggests that the effects of ostracism are both rapid and robust, occurring after only short-term exposure and across many social contexts. After being ostracized for as little as four minutes, individuals report lower satisfaction levels for belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence, and higher levels of sadness and anger (Williams, 2001). Ostracism activates blood flow in the same region of the brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) that detects and signals physical pain (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003). Of relevance to the present research, ostracism is equally distressing when perpetrated by ingroup and outgroup members (i.e., smokers/non-smokers and Mac/PC users; Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000) or even despised outgroup members (i. e., KKK—Williams & Gonsalkorale, 2004). Indeed, the effects of ostracism are unmitigated even in contexts that seem to eliminate personalized explanations for exclusion; people feel bad even when ostracized by computers (Zadro, Williams, & Richardson, 2004). Finally, ostracism hurts even when being ostracized is rewarded and being included is punished (van Beest & Williams, 2004). We propose that attributing ostracism to group characteristics, like race, should soften the blow of ostracism compared to ostracism that can be attributed only to one’s personal characteristics.


1. Inclusion will result in increases in self esteem, control and belonging; ostracism will result in decreases across these dimensions.

2. Regardless their own racial characteristics, people will report greater attribution to racial prejudice when they believe other players know their racial identities and that other players are members of the outgroup.

3. Post-attributional change on the Reflexive Responses to Ostracism Scale (RROS)should be mediated by levels of attribution to prejudice.

Experimental Manipulations:

1. Perceptions of visibility of racial identities
2. Race of visible identities
3. Inclusion and exclusion in the game

Key Dependent Variables:

Measures of self-esteem, attribution to prejudice and the RROS.

Goodwin, S. A., Williams, K. D., & Carter-Sowell, A. R. (2010). The psychological sting of stigma: The costs of attributing ostracism to racism. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 612-618.

Hawkley, L. C., Williams, K. D., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Responses to ostracism across adulthood. Social, Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience. 6:234-243

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