Ostracized children use imitation to fit in, study finds

December 15, 2015, University of Texas at Austin

The threat of ostracism influences children to imitate group behaviors as a means of re-affiliating, according to psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

Previous studies indicate that, when excluded, adults will mimic behaviors of others to increase "liking and rapport" in an attempt to be re-included; and now, researchers suggest are no different.

"Humans have an evolutionary prepared ostracism-detection system," said Rachel Watson-Jones, the lead author of the study and a in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin.

According to the study, children as young as 5 are sensitive to being excluded, especially from "in-groups"—those to which they feel they belong—and will respond using high-fidelity imitation to re-affiliate with those groups.

"When kids feel left out, they copy the behavior of others around them in order to appear more like them," said Watson-Jones. "Whether it's the way they dress, play, eat or activities they participate in, a child will imitate the behavior of others to appear as though they are part of that group."

Researchers observed 176 children, ages 5 and 6 years old, as they played Cyberball, a virtual ball-tossing game, under four conditions. They looked at those ostracized from the in-group and those included, and those ostracized from the out-group and those included. "Ostracized" children were excluded from the two-minute game.

Additionally, researchers assessed children's facial, postural and verbal displays for anxiety and frustration, finding that children ostracized by the in-group displayed significantly more anxiety than those excluded from the out-group.

After the game, children watched an in-group or out-group member perform a pattern of arbitrary but intentional hand and object movements to simulate a group convention. Children who had been excluded by the in-group imitated the actions with higher fidelity than children who had been included. However, children ostracized or included by the out-group did not differ in their imitative fidelity of the out-group convention.

"The psychological experience of being ostracized by in-group members is aversive. Even are highly motivated to engage in behaviors such as group rituals to re-affiliate with other group members," said associate professor of psychology Cristine Legare, a co-author of the study. "Research demonstrates that the behavioral response to being ostracized emerges early in development."

Examining the types of behaviors that children will imitate in response to ostracism, both positive and negative, is an important future direction for this research, Legare said.

Their paper "In-group ostracism increases high-fidelity imitation in early childhood" was published in Psychological Science in November 2015.

Explore further: Selective imitation shows children are flexible social learners, study finds

More information: Psychological Science, pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97615607205.abstract

Related Stories

Selective imitation shows children are flexible social learners, study finds

July 27, 2015
Psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin found that children flexibly choose when to imitate and when to innovate the behavior of others, demonstrating that children are precocious social learners.

Professor: Pain of ostracism can be deep, long-lasting

May 10, 2011
Ostracism or exclusion may not leave external scars, but it can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury, according to a Purdue University expert.

Young children quickly adopt ritualistic behavior, study shows

September 18, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Although rituals such as shaking hands or saying, "bless you" after a sneeze don't make practical sense, these arbitrary social conventions give people a sense of belonging in a particular social group. ...

Those briefly ostracized recover more quickly if they previously were given focused attention training, study finds

October 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—When people are briefly ostracized, they feel distress that may linger for some time, however, they recover more quickly from the experience if they are better prepared mentally to focus on something else, ...

Being left out puts youths with special needs at risk for depression

April 29, 2012
The challenges that come with battling a chronic medical condition or developmental disability are enough to get a young person down. But being left out, ignored or bullied by their peers is the main reason youths with special ...

Recommended for you

Junk food diet raises depression risk, researchers find

December 18, 2018
A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Looking on bright side may reduce anxiety, especially when money is tight

December 17, 2018
Trying to find something good in a bad situation appears to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety the less money a person makes, possibly because people with low incomes have less control over their environment, according ...

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Self-perception and reality seem to line-up when it comes to judging our own personality

December 14, 2018
When it comes to self-assessment, new U of T research suggests that maybe we do have a pretty good handle on our own personalities after all.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.