Cross-cultural study finds individualists are more stressed out by social exclusion

New research has discovered that social exclusion tends to cause more stress for people from individualistic cultures.

The study, published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, found that individualists were more negatively affected by social exclusion than collectivists — not just psychologically, but also physically. Overall, collectivists displayed less physiological stress and higher levels of psychological well-being.

“The importance of being included is culturally universal, as all cultures are based on living together in communities. However, living together can be very different depending on the context,” Michaela Pfundmair and her colleagues wrote in their study.

Cultures vary widely in how individuals relate to others. People living in individualist cultures focus on uniqueness, autonomy, and independence. People living in collectivist cultures focus on group harmony, interpersonal relations, and interdependence.

In four studies of more than 500 participants, Pfundmair and her colleagues examined the differences between people living in the individualistic culture of Germany and people living in the more collectivistic cultures of Turkey, India, and China.

The researchers found people from Germany were more negatively affected than people from Turkey and China after being asked to visualize a past experience of exclusion.

Pfundmair and her colleagues also used the online ball-tossing game Cyberball to investigate the effects of social exclusion on German, Indian, and Chinese participants. The pre-programmed 3-player game evokes a sense of social exclusion and rejection by consistently ignoring the participant.

The researchers found that not only did Germans self-report being more negatively affected by social exclusion, they also showed a significant increase of heart rate after realizing they were being ignored.

“The finding that collectivists did not even display immediate cardiovascular reactions indicates that they were not equally threatened by social exclusion,” Pfundmair and her colleagues wrote.

But why are collectivists less effected by social exclusion? The results suggest that “the collectivistic self might be structurally different from the individualistic one,” according to the researchers.

Collectivists are less focused on their own personal misfortunes, compared to ego-focused perspective of individualists.

The collectivistic self appears to be “less susceptible to threats to individual belonging. The individual self (of the collectivist), separate from others, is not a core aspect of self-integrity, and is therefore less guarded by highly sensitive reactions to individual social exclusion,” the researchers said.


  1. Avatar

    Interesting although the sample size of cultures seems too small to make accurate assessements of “invidualist” vs “collectivist” especially considering one category only involved one culture.