Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: October 2011

7 - Ostracism in cyberspace


This chapter presents a basic overview of ostracism, describing the reasons for its use, the situations in which it can occur, and the effects it has on its targets. Ostracism can happen in both face-to-face and electronic-based (e.g., internet, cell phones, and virtual reality) interpersonal interactions. The authors describe a variety of experimental research methods that have been used to study the effects of ostracism in both of these interpersonal contexts, comparing and contrasting the results of these different studies. Particular attention is paid to studies involving electronic-based interactions. Both immediate and long-term effects of ostracism on targets’ behaviors are discussed, focusing specifically on how people can be negatively impacted by being ostracized in an electronic-based interaction. The authors discuss how the nature of electronic-based interactions may affect people's reactions to ostracism in novel ways, providing greater understanding of the similarities and differences between face-to-face and electronic-based interactions. These findings are reexamined and explained in the context of virtual bravado – uninhibited behavior perhaps due to the anonymity provided by electronic-based communication. Finally, future directions of research are suggested for studying ostracism in electronic-based interactions, as well as people's general behavior in these types of interactions.


There are several needs that are essential to our lives as human beings, and the desire to satisfy these needs influences our attitudes, behaviors, and interactions. Four of the most fundamental human social needs are the needs for belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence (Williams, 2001, 2009). Humans have a need to belong – they desire interpersonal relationships and meaningful interactions (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). Humans also have a desire to have reasonably high self-esteem (Leary et al., 1995; Tesser, 1988). Humans also have more action-focused needs; they desire some degree of control over their environment (Friedland et al., 1992), and knowledge that their existence matters to others (Greenberg et al., 1986; Solomon et al., 1991).

ABC News 2007
ABC Primetime 2006
Barak, A. 2005 Sexual harassment on the internetSocial Science Computer Review 23 77
Bargh, J. A.McKenna, K. Y. A. 2004 The internet and social lifeAnnual Review of Psychology 55 573
Baumeister, R. F.Leary, M. R. 1995 The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivationPsychological Bulletin 117 497
Buckley, K. E.Winkel, R. E.Leary, M. R. 2004 Reactions to acceptance and rejection: Effects of level and sequence of relational evaluationJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 14
Campbell, D. T.Fiske, D. W. 1959 Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait–multimethod matrixPsychological Bulletin 56 81
Chow, R. M.Tiedens, L. Z.Govan, C. L. 2008 Excluded emotions: The role of anger in antisocial responses to ostracismJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 896
Christopherson, K. M. 2007 The positive and negative implications of anonymity in internet social interactions: “On the internet, nobody knows you're a dogComputers in Human Behavior 23 3038
Coffey, B.Woolworth, S. 2004 Destroy the scum, and then neuter their families”: The web forum as a vehicle for community discourseThe Social Science Journal 41 1
Diener, E. 1979 Deindividuation, self-awareness, and disinhibitionJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 1160
Diener, E.Fraser, S. C.Beaman, A. L.Kelem, R. T. 1976 Effects of deindividuation variables on stealing among Halloween trick-or-treatersJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 33 178
Dubrovsky, V. J.Kiesler, S.Sethna, B. N. 1991 The equalization phenomenon: Status effects in computer-mediated and face-to-face decision-making groupsHuman–Computer Interaction 6 119
Eisenberger, N. I.Lieberman, M. D.Williams, K. D. 2003 Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusionScience 302 290
Friedland, N.Keinan, G.Regev, Y. 1992 Controlling the uncontrollable: Effects of stress on illusory perceptions of controllabilityJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 63 923
Gardner, W.Pickett, C. L.Brewer, M. B. 2000 Social exclusion and selective memory: How the need to belong influences memory for social eventsPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26 486
Gonsalkorale, K.Williams, K. D. 2007 The KKK won't let me play: Ostracism even by a despised outgroup hurtsEuropean Journal of Social Psychology 37 1176
Greenberg, J.Pyszczynski, T.Solomon, S. 1986 The causes and consequences of the need for self-esteem: A terror management theoryBaumeister, R. F.Public self and private self189New YorkSpringer-Verlag
Heider, F.Simmel, M. 1944 An experimental study of apparent behaviorAmerican Journal of Psychology 57 243
Kassner, M. P.Wirth, J. H.Law, A. T.Williams, K. D. 2010
Kiesler, S.Siegel, J.McGuire, T. W. 1984 Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communicationAmerican Psychologist 39 1123
Kowalski, R. M.Limber, S. P.Agatston, P. W. 2008 Cyber bullying: Bullying in the digital ageMalden, MABlackwell Publishing
Kraut, R.Patterson, M.Lundmark, V.Kiesler, S.Mukopadhyay, T.Scherlis, W. 1998 Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-beingAmerican Psychologist 53 1017
Lakin, J. L.Chartrand, T. L. 2005 Exclusion and nonconscious behavioral mimicryWilliams, K. D.Forgas, J. P.von Hippel, W.The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying279New YorkPsychology Press
Leary, M. R.Kowalski, R. M.Smith, L.Phillips, S. 2003 Teasing, rejection, and violence: Case studies of the school shootingsAggressive Behavior 29 202
Leary, M. R.Tambor, E. S.Terdal, S. K.Downs, D. L. 1995 Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesisJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 68 518
Leary, M. R.Twegne, J. M.Quinlivan, E. 2006 Interpersonal rejection as a determinant of anger and aggressionPersonality and Social Psychology Review 10 111
Lee, E.Leets, L. 2002 Persuasive storytelling by hate groups online: Examining its effects on adolescentsAmerican Behavioral Scientist 45 927
Maner, J. K.DeWall, C. N.Baumeister, R. F.Schaller, M. 2007 Does social exclusion motivate interpersonal reconnection? Resolving the “porcupine problemJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 92 42
McGuire, T. W.Kiesler, S.Siegel, J. 1987 Group and computer-mediated discussion effects in risk decision-makingJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 917
McKenna, K. Y. A.Bargh, J. A. 1998 Coming out in the age of the internet: Identity “demarginalization” through virtual group participationJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 75 681
McKenna, K. Y. A.Bargh, J. A. 1999 Causes and consequences of social interaction on the internet: A conceptual frameworkMedia Psychology 1 249
McKenna, K. Y. A.Bargh, J. A. 2000 Plan 9 from cyberspace: The implications of the internet for personality and social psychologyPersonality and Social Psychology Review 4 57
McKenna, K. Y. A.Green, A. S.Gleason, M. E. J. 2002 Relationship formation on the internet: What's the big attractionJournal of Social Issues 58 9
Molden, D. C.Lucas, G. M.Gardner, W. L.Dean, K.Knowles, M. L. 2009 Motivations for prevention or promotion following social exclusion: Being rejected versus being ignoredJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 96 415
Ouwerkerk, J. W.Kerr, N. L.Gallucci, M.Lange, P. A. M. 2005 Avoiding the social death penalty: Ostracism and cooperation in social dilemmasWilliams, K. D.Forgas, J. P.von Hippel, W.The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying321New YorkPsychology Press
Peter, J.Valkenburg, P. M. 2006 Research note: Individual differences in perceptions of internet communicationEuropean Journal of Communication 21 213
Peter, J.Valkenburg, P. M.Schouten, A. P. 2005 Developing a model of adolescent friendship formation on the internetCyberPsychology & Behavior 8 423
Pickett, C. L.Gardner, W. L.Knowles, M. 2004 Getting a cue: The need to belong and enhanced sensitivity to social cuesPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30 1095
Predmore, S. J.Williams, K. D. 1983
Reid, D. J.Reid, F. J. M. 2007 Text or talk? Social anxiety, loneliness, and divergent preferences for cell phone useCyberPsychology & Behavior 10 424
Rintel, E. S.Pittam, J. 1997 Strangers in a strange land: Interaction management on Internet Relay ChatHuman Communication Research 23 507
Sheeks, M. S.Birchmeier, Z. P. 2007 Shyness, sociability, and the use of computer-mediated communication in relationship developmentCyberPsychology & Behavior 10 64
Siegel, J.Dubrovsky, V.Kiesler, S.McGuire, T. W. 1986 Group processes in computer-mediated communicationOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 37 157
Skitka, L. J.Sargis, E. G. 2006 The internet as psychological laboratoryAnnual Review of Psychology 57 529
Smith, A.Williams, K. D. 2004 R U there? Effects of ostracism by cell phone messagesGroup Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 8 291
Snoek, J. D. 1962 Some effects of rejection upon attraction to a groupJournal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 64 175
Solomon, S.Greenberg, J.Pyszczynski, T. 1991 A terror management theory of self-esteem and its role in social behaviorZanna, M.Advances in Experimental Social Psychology93New YorkAcademic Press
Sproull, L.Kiesler, S. 1986 Reducing social context cues: Electronic mail in organizational communicationManagement Science 32 1492
Stritzke, W. G. K.Nguyen, A.Durkin, K. 2004 Shyness and computer-mediated communication: A self-presentational theory perspectiveMedia Psychology 6 1
Tesser, A. 1988 Toward a self-evaluation maintenance model of social behaviorBerkowitz, L.Advances in Experimental Social Psychology181San Diego, CAAcademic Press
Thompson, L.Nadler, J. 2002 Negotiating via information technology: Theory and applicationJournal of Social Issues 58 109
Twenge, J. M.Baumeister, R. F.Tice, D. M.Stucke, T. S. 2001 If you can't join them, beat them: Effects of social exclusion on aggressive behaviorJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 1058
Twenge, J. M.Campbell, W. K. 2003 Isn't it fun to get the respect that we're going to deserve?” Narcissism, social rejection, and aggressionPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin 29 261
van Beest, IWilliams, K. D. 2006 When inclusion costs and ostracism pays, ostracism still hurtsJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 91 918
Warburton, W. A.Williams, K. D.Cairns, D. R. 2006 When ostracism leads to aggression: The moderating effects of control deprivationJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 42 213
Wesselmann, E. D.Bagg, D.Williams, K. D. 2009 I feel your pain”: The effects of observing ostracism on the ostracism detection systemJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 1308
Wesselmann, E. D.Butler, F. A.Williams, K. D.Pickett, C. L. 2010 Adding injury to insult: Unexpected rejection leads to more aggressive responsesAggressive Behavior 36 232
Wesselmann, E. D.Williams, K. D.Ostracism and stages of copingDeWall, C. N.The Oxford handbook of social exclusionOxford University Press.
Wheaton, A. E. 2001
Williams, K. D. 1997 Social ostracismKowalski, R. M.Aversive interpersonal behaviors133New YorkPlenum Press
Williams, K. D. 2001 Ostracism: The power of silenceNew YorkThe Guilford Press
Williams, K. D. 2007 OstracismAnnual Review of Psychology 58 425
Williams, K. D. 2009 Ostracism: Effects of being excluded and ignoredZanna, M. P.Advances in experimental social psychology275New YorkAcademic Press
Williams, K. D.Cheung, C. K. T.Choi, W. 2000 CyberOstracism: Effects of being ignored over the internetJournal of Personality and Social Psychology 79 748
Williams, K. D.Govan, C. L.Crocker, V.Tynan, D.Cruickshank, M.Lam, A. 2002 Investigations into differences between social- and cyber-ostracismGroup Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 6 65
Williams, K. D.Selvarajah, K.Richards,
Williams, K. D.Sommer, K. L. 1997 Social ostracism by coworkers: Does rejection lead to social loafing or compensation?Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 693
Williams, K. D.Wesselmann, E. D. 2011 The link between ostracism and aggressionForgas, J. P.Kruglanski, A. W.Williams, K. D.The psychology of social conflict and aggressionNew YorkPsychology Press, in press
Williams, K. D.Zadro, L. 2004
Wirth, J. H.Lynam, D. R.Williams, K. D. 2010 When social pain is not automatic: Personality disorder traits buffer ostracism's immediate negative impactJournal of Research in Personality 44 397
Wirth, J. H.Sacco, D. F.Hugenberg, K.Williams, K. D. 2010 Eye gaze as relational evaluation: Averted eye gaze leads to feelings of ostracism and relational devaluationPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36 869
Zadro, L.Boland, C.Richardson, R. 2006 How long does it last? The persistence of the effects of ostracism in the socially anxiousJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 42 692
Zadro, L.Williams, K. D.Richardson, R. 2004 How low can you go? Ostracism by a computer is sufficient to lower self-reported levels of belonging, control, self-esteem, and meaningful existenceJournal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 560