Study finds people who are ostracized are more likely to make risky decisions

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Some people have to deal with being ostracized on a daily basis. For any of several reasons, they are shunned by those near them and isolated from social circles that would otherwise be available. Being excluded and ignored has a negative effect on many aspects of social, physiological and psychological functioning. For example, people may become dishonest, cognitive abilities may decline over time, negative affect increases and harmful behaviors become more common.

Decision making is a cognitive process that can become a harmful behavior when high levels of risk are involved. Researchers Melissa Buelow and James Wirth examined the effect of ostracism on this association and found that the odds of risky decision-making increases with exposure to exclusion.

Accepted for publishing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, this piece of research included two experiments designed to test the influence of ostracizing on decision-making processes. The first study included a final sample size of 83 subjects (51.8% female). Each participant played in an online virtual ball-toss game with two other players that they were led to believe were human but were actually computer programs.

Subjects were placed in one of two conditions. In the ostracized condition the subjects only received the ball from each player once, while in the control condition they received it about 1/3 of the time (equal with the computer players). After the game they completed several decision-making tasks and it was found that ostracized players were significantly more likely to make risky decisions in some tests but not all

Experiment 2 was conducted to verify the results using a different method of ostracizing. This time a new sample of 120 participants (50% female) played a text-based game, again with two supposedly human players that were really computer-controlled. Ostracized players were only picked by the computer players once and those in the control group were chosen once every three times. Multiple decision tasks were again completed.

The results were similar to those of the first study, as ostracizing was associated with high-risk decision making. However, as was also the case in study 1, not all forms of decision-making testing were in agreement. Further studies will be needed to clarify the variation between tests, but there remains enough evidence to support the findings of this investigation. Ostracism appears to be linked with risky decision-making behaviors, but there is still much to learn about the nature of the relationship.