The crude ostracism detection system: Pupils react to minimal cues of exclusion
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Description: When people are rejected by others, they typically feel an immediate sense of pain –referred to as social pain. Social pain is hypothesized to be the alarm response of a “quick and crude” ostracisim detection system, a system that is highly sensitive to even minimal signs of exclusion. Physiological reactivity has been found to accompany this social pain, but it is unclear whether the physiological mechanism underlying the ostracisim detection system is also “quick and crude.” To test whether physiological reactivity to exclusion is “quick and crude,” the present study investigated whether pupil dilation (an index of physiological reactivity) differs when detecting exclusion from human entities versus non-human entities and when experiencing versus witnessing exclusion using a Cyberball paradigm. Experiment 1 showed that pupil dilation was greater when viewing players who were exclusive than those who were inclusive, regardless of whether the players were human (i.e., undergraduate students) or non-human (i.e., computerized) entities. The same pupil reactivity pattern was observed in Experiment 2 after participants watched interactions in which another person was included or excluded by human or non-human entities. In Experiment 3, participating in real life interactions with human players did not cause pupil reactivity to be greater to human players compared to non-human players. Across all three experiments, pupil dilation was consistently more sustained toward exclusive than inclusive players regradless of the social identity of the players. These findings support the idea of a highly sensitive, “quick and crude” physiological mechanism that underlies the ostracism detection system.