Date of Award
Thesis and Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of Psychology: School Psychology
Bullying among school-aged children is problematic in the U.S., with 22% of students aged 12-18 years reporting experiences with bullying at school (Zhang, Musu-Gillette, & Oudekerk, 2016). Whereas early bullying research focused heavily on the physical bullying common among boys, more recent studies have included examinations of bullying using relational aggression. Defined as removing or threatening to remove relationships to cause harm to another, relational aggression includes behaviors such as spreading lies, gossiping, or ignoring a peer and has been found to be more common among girls (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005; Murray-Close et al., 2007). A specialized form of relational aggression that has been relatively under investigated among adolescents involves ostracism, the excluding or ignoring of others by individuals or groups (Williams, 2009).
The paucity of research on ostracism in childhood and adolescence is surprising, given that research with adults has linked ostracism to a variety of negative outcomes, including suicidal ideation or attempts, depression, and other breakdowns in psychological functioning (Saylor, Williams, Nida, McKenna, Twomey, & Macias, 2013). Further, given the importance of healthy peer relations on child and adolescent psychological functioning, studying teen responses to ostracism is of great importance. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine how adolescent girls respond to ostracism experiences in the lab. Girls’ willingness to ingratiate with those who had ostracized them was of primary interest, as previous research has failed to examine teen behavior following ostracism and how it affects teens’ potential for future relationships. While research with adults suggests that individuals may be prosocial to gain inclusion, it is unknown whether ostracized youth will attempt to ingratiate with ostracizers as a means to gain the inclusion that is crucial to teen development. As such, this was the first known study to examine how individual differences among middle school-aged girls’ social-cognitive functioning moderated their affective and behavioral responses to being ostracized.
Fifth through 8th grade girls (N= 110) completed several surveys assessing individual differences, including those related to involvement as perpetrator or victim of relational and overt aggression. At least one week after completion of these surveys, girls participated in a game of Cyberball in which they were randomly assigned to be either fully or partially ostracized. Following the game, participants completed the Primary Needs Questionnaire-Children (PNQ-C; Zadro et al., 2013) to assess need threat, as well as a resource allocation task in which they had the opportunity to “buy” inclusion in a second game of Cyberball by giving cookies to the original game players or an uninvolved player. After these tasks, participants played a final game of Cyberball in which they were fully included. Results indicated that girls who were fully ostracized in the game experienced significantly more need threat than those who were partially ostracized. In addition, girls who were partially ostracized made a greater effort to ingratiate with original players compared to girls who were fully ostracized. Hypotheses regarding the moderating role of relational aggression were not supported. However, a history of involvement in overt aggression did moderate resource allocation of cookies, with more frequent engagement in these behaviors associated with greater ingratiation towards original players. In addition, girls’ feelings of threat to belonging following ostracism mediated the relationship between level of ostracism and their ingratiating behaviors.
Results suggest that ostracism is harmful regardless of one’s history of involvement with aggression, indicating that school-based professionals working with teens have an obligation to identify and intervene when ostracism is occurring. Further, girls who were partially ostracized and believed they could gain inclusion in the second Cyberball game chose to ingratiate with ostracizing players to “buy” their inclusion. This finding suggests a need for adults to assist in teaching social skills and structuring healthy interactions so that youth are not exploited by more socially skilled peers. In addition, study results make an important theoretical contribution to the ostracism literature. Specifically, girls’ threat to belonging was the process through which ostracism influenced ingratiation behaviors. This mediation was previously unstudied in teens and adds support to Williams’ (2009) theory that threatened needs influence individuals’ behavior following the ostracism experience.
Leja, Ashley, "Middle-School Girls' Behavioral Responses to Ostracism: How Much Does Inclusion Cost?" (2015). Theses and Dissertations. 734.