Protect, correct, and eject: Ostracism as a social influence tool

A.H. Hales, Dongning Ren, K.D. Williams

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Ostracism—ignoring and excluding—is an evolutionarily adaptive response that protects groups from burdensome members either by correcting the misbehavior while promoting sameness and civility, or, if correction is not achieved, then ejecting the member, resulting again in a homogeneous, albeit smaller, group. Over 20 years of research demonstrates that ostracism is a powerful tool of social influence. Being the target of ostracism activates brain regions associated with pain, threatens fundamental needs, worsens mood, and causes behavior changes aimed at fortifying threatened needs. We review research showing three functions of ostracism: (1) to protect—shielding groups from threatening members; (2) to correct—signaling to individuals that their behavior needs modification to remain in the group; and (3) to eject—permanently removing deviant individuals who resist correction. Although ostracism is a powerful and effective social influence tool, it can cause unintended and potentially dangerous consequences for those who employ it.
Keywords: ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, Cyberball, social susceptibility, aggression, solitude, social pain
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of social influence
EditorsS.G. Harkins, K.D. Williams , J. Burger
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780199859870
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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