“If you think giving someone the cold shoulder inflicts pain only on them, beware. A new study shows that individuals who deliberately shun another person are equally distressed by the experience.
“In real life and in academic studies, we tend to focus on the harm done to victims in cases of social aggression,” says co-author Richard Ryan, professor of clinical and social psychology at the University of Rochester. “This study shows that when people bend to pressure to exclude others, they also pay a steep personal cost. Their distress is different from the person excluded, but no less intense.”
What causes this discomfort? The research found that complying with instructions to exclude another person leads most people to feel shame and guilt, along with a diminished sense of autonomy, explains Nicole Legate, lead author of the Psychological Science paper and a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester. The results also showed that inflicting social pain makes people feel less connected to others. “We are social animals at heart,” says Legate. “We typically are empathetic and avoid harming others unless we feel threatened.”
The findings point to the hidden price of going along with demands to exclude individuals based on social stigmas, such as being gay, write the authors. The study also provides insight into the harm to both parties in cases of social bullying.”