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Child Witnesses to Ostracism: Innocent Bystanders or Contributors to Social Isolation? Anne Howard, Tiffanie Almeida, John Pryor, Ph.D., & Steven Landau,

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Presentation on theme: "Child Witnesses to Ostracism: Innocent Bystanders or Contributors to Social Isolation? Anne Howard, Tiffanie Almeida, John Pryor, Ph.D., & Steven Landau,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Child Witnesses to Ostracism: Innocent Bystanders or Contributors to Social Isolation? Anne Howard, Tiffanie Almeida, John Pryor, Ph.D., & Steven Landau, Ph.D. Department of Psychology Illinois State University ABSTRACT Purpose: Although it is well established that ostracism is highly aversive, no known study has examined the processes involved when a child witnesses the social exclusion of another child. The purpose of this study was to ascertain if 4th - through 8th children would be willing to play with a child whom they observe is excluded by others. Method: Before joining a computer-generated ball-toss game of CyberBall, one-half of child participants were assigned to an ostracism condition in which they saw one cyber player excluded from the game by two other players. Participants in the control condition viewed the game in which no player was ostracized. After viewing the game, children entered the game with the other cyber players, and one game player was excluded by the other two players (i.e., they did not throw the ball to him/her). Results: Although no differences in ball-throwing frequency existed between the ostracism and control group, participants engaged in a reversal of ostracism by throwing the ball to the excluded player more than the other virtual players. Also, self-reported prosocial behavior predicted the extent to which the participant engaged in this inclusion. Conclusions: Witnessing ostracism did not deter participants from including an excluded child. Indeed, participants’ willingness to play with an ostracized player was predicated on their self-reported prosocial behavior. Further research is needed to explore the utility of Cyberball and to gain a better understanding of the role of peer bystanders. INTRODUCTION As humans, each of us has a strong need to belong, and this need transcends age, gender, racial, and cultural boundaries (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). As such, the experience of social ostracism, a form of rejection, exclusion, or isolation, can be extremely unpleasant and unsettling (Williams, 1997, 2001; Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000). Regarding children and teens, social exclusion can be both an outcome and a predictor of violent behavior. Regarding the outcome value of ostracism, children chronically victimized by bullies often experience social exclusion associated with their victim status. For example, research indicates the peer witnesses of bullying (i.e., bystanders not directly involved) devalue the victim and tend to be unmoved by the prospect that the victim will suffer future harm (Perry, Williard, & Perry, 1990). Regarding the predictive value of ostracism, a sense of social exclusion is recognized as a common characteristic of the perpetrators of school shootings (Leary, Kowalski, Smith, & Phillips, 2003). Despite overwhelming evidence to suggest that ostracism has detrimental effects on the adjustment of children and adolescents, scant attention has been paid to understanding the processes involved. While extensive research has focused on the dyadic nature of relational, physical, and other forms of aggression, little is known about the peer bystanders who witnesses these occurrences. Specifically, research is yet to uncover the contribution that peers make to the ostracism of socially excluded children. Peer bystanders may become active participants, and exacerbate the exclusion process, or merely passive, hoping to avoid involvement in the antisocial episode. One reason this area of research has been constrained is due to the difficulties associated with obtaining valid measures of the ostracism process among child research participants. Naturalistically occurring ostracism is extremely difficult to observe in school settings, as it involves the non-occurrence of codable behaviors, and is rarely observed by adult supervisors. A recently developed method described in the adult literature, known as Cyberostracism, may prove a useful indicator of the ostracizing propensity of children. It is a computer-based ball-toss game in which the game can be programmed to ostracize either the research participant or one of the computer-generated cyber players by not throwing the ball to him/her. This is the first known study to apply this computer-driven methodology to children as a method of assessing their ostracizing behavior and the pernicious effects of witnessing another child being ostracized. It was predicted that children who observed another child being ostracized would further this exclusion episode and continue to isolate the ostracized player from the game. It was anticipated that, upon questioning, children who witness ostracism would express feelings indicating they devalue the ostracized child to whom no one throws the ball, as well as an indifference regarding future malevolence towards that child. It was predicted that children who present a self-reported profile of high negative and low positive social behaviors (i.e., relational aggression) would be more likely to engage in ostracizing behavior during game-play. METHOD Participants Twenty 4th- through 8th grade boys and girls who attend a university-affiliated laboratory school served as participants. Fifty-five percent were male (Mean age = 12.5). Procedure Each participant was told that s/he was going to evaluate a new computer game called CyberBall, and that the other players in the game were real children from neighboring states. Each child participated in two trials of CyberBall: 1. In the first trial, participants passively viewed the game being played by three cyber players. Those assigned to the ostracism condition observed two of the virtual players throwing the ball back-and-forth (i.e., never throwing the ball to the third player who was being ostracized). Participants in the control condition watched the three players randomly throw the ball to each other an equal number of times. 2. Following their exposure to either the ostracism or control condition, each participant entered the game with the other three players. Trial 2 was the same for each participant, and the game was programmed such that one player, Chris, was ostracized (i.e., excluded from the game) by the two other players. The only way Chris received the ball was if the participant threw it to him/her. The number of times each participant threw his/her ball to each of the three cyber players was recorded. Results from the manipulation check (e.g., “How much did Chris get the ball”), as well as a series of t-test for all dependent variables, revealed that the condition factor in Trial 1 had no effect on participants’ performance once they joined the game. As such, Trial 2 game performance data were pooled across both conditions. Also, children clearly detected that Chris was being ostracized in Trial 2, as they rated him receiving the ball significantly less often than the other two players, Wilks’ lamda =.33, F(2, 18) = 18.24, p <.05. Following the game, each participant completed a questionnaire that included assessment of their feelings about the game, the relative likeability of each cyber player, as well as the Children’s Social Behavior Scale- Self Report (Crick & Grotpeter 1995), a psychometrically sound measure of various positive and negative social behaviors. Dependent Variables Game-related variables - The percent of ball tosses to each game player based on the total number of balls thrown to all cyber players. - Game feedback (e.g., “I enjoyed playing Cyberball”) Participants’ perceptions of the other game players - Bystander perception of player enjoyment (e.g., “How much do you think Chris liked the game?”) - Player likeability (e.g., “If you were captain of a dodge ball game, whom would you pick first to be on your team?”) Participants’ self-reported social behaviors - Composite scores of: Relational Aggression, Physical Aggression, Verbal Aggression, Inclusion, Loneliness, and Prosocial Behavior (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995) RESULTS A series of t-tests revealed no gender differences among any dependent variables. In addition, participants’ age was unrelated to self-reported social behaviors or performance in the game. As such, all data were pooled for boys and girls and across grade level. To determine if participants were selective in their willingness to play catch with the other players, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures was applied to the percent of ball tosses to each player. Contrary to expectations, participants threw the ball to Chris (M = 41%, SD = 3.67), the ostracized player, significantly more than to Alex (M = 29%, SD = 2.33) or Pat (M = 30%, SD = 4.16), Wilks’ lamda =.70, F(2, 17) = 3.63, p <.05. See Figure 1. Participants’ self-reported Physical and Relational Aggression scores were unrelated to the percent of ball tosses to any of the cyber players (including the ostracized player). However, self-reported Prosocial behavior was significantly related to the percent of ball tosses to the ostracized player, r(18) =.51, p <.05. Specifically, children who described themselves in stronger prosocial terms (e.g., “Some kids try to cheer up other kids who feel upset or sad. How often do you do this?”) evinced greater willingness to include the excluded player in the game. Participants’ Inclusion composite score was negatively correlated with how much they reported enjoying the game r(18) = -.50, p <.05. In other words, children who reported feeling less included by their classmates (e.g., “Some kids have a lot of friends in their class. How often do you have a lot of friends in your class?”) expressed greater dislike for the game. There was a significant association between the percent of ball tosses to the ostracized player and how much participants liked that player, r(18) =.55, p <.05. Those children who were less willing to include the ostracized player in the game expressed more dislike for him/her. CONCLUSIONS Overall, it appears that witnessing ostracism did not exacerbate children’s propensity to ostracize a socially excluded child. Upon seeing Chris excluded in the game, children apparently overcompensated by including him/her more often than the other two players. This tendency was predicted by their self- reported prosocial behaviors. Witnessing Chris’ exclusion from the game seems to have evoked a negative affective response to the game, as those children who reported feeling less included by their own classmates disliked playing the game. Contrary to expectations, peer bystanders in this study engaged in a reversal of social exclusion. This finding diverges from previous adult research that indicates witnesses to social isolation will either join the act of exclusion or remain passive to avoid being associated with the target. Further research is needed to explore the utility of Cyberball with children and adolescents. Additionally, the role of peer bystanders in the ostracism of others needs further exploration to inform school-based intervention efforts designed to ameliorate the social exclusion of students. This poster can be accessed under “Student Research” at:


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