ostracizedcrpdIn matrimaniacal societies, in which much of social life is organized around couples, people who are single can feel excluded. Getting ostracized can be especially painful when the people who are excluding you were once your friends – the people with whom you socialized routinely.

There is research showing that as people become more serious about a romantic relationship, they spend more time with each other and they sideline their friends. In the jargon, that’s called “dyadic withdrawal.” I think there is another dynamic, too, though the definitive research has yet to be done: Coupled people spend more time not only with each other but also with other couples; at the same time, they marginalize their single friends.

I wonder about the psychology of this process. Do new couples happily join in with the other couples, proud to be part of the Married Couples Club and to leave their single friends behind? Or do they want to include their single friends, at least at first, but get pressured to exclude them by other couples who want to socialize only with other couples?

My guess is that it is different for different couples. (And that some couples do not engage in singles-ostracism at all.)

A lively area of research has shown how painful it can be to be ostracized, even in trivial ways (as, for example, when other participants in an online cyberball game stop throwing the ball to you). Now there is new research showing that people who are pressured to exclude other people – and who comply with that pressure – suffer too. Call it karma, if you wish.

In a pair of studies, some participants were told to exclude another player from a cyber ball-tossing game. If they complied, those participants ended up feeling more negative emotions than other participants who were not given any special instructions as to how to play the game and who did not exclude other players.

In one of the two studies, the experiences of those who were instructed to ostracize another player (by not tossing the ball to that person) were compared to the feelings of people who were ostracized. Remarkably, the people who went along with the instructions to exclude another player felt just as distressed as the people who were excluded.

The profile of the particular negative emotions differed for the two groups of people in ways you could probably predict. The people who went along with the ostracizing experienced more shame and guilt, whereas the people who got ostracized felt more anger.

Something else happened that the authors probably did not predict. Some of the participants who were instructed to ostracize other people just wouldn’t do it. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn more about them!

Outcast girl photo available from Shutterstock