The affective and cognitive mechanisms elicited by the experience of social exclusion-or ostracism-have recently been explored using behavioral and neurocognitive methods. Most of the studies took advantage of the Cyberball paradigm, a virtual ball tossing game with presumed co-players connected via the internet. Consistent behavioral findings indicate that exclusion obviously threatens fundamental social needs (belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control) and lowers mood. In this study, we followed the question whether the credibility of the setting affects the processing of social exclusion. In contrast to a control group (standard Cyberball setup), co-players were physically present in an experimental group. Although the credibility of the virtual ball tossing game was significantly enhanced in the experimental group, self-reported negative mood and need threat were not enhanced compared to the control group. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), however, indicated a differential processing of social exclusion. The N2 amplitude triggered by occasional ball receptions was significantly reduced in the experimental group. This effect was restricted for an early time range (130-210 ms), and did not extend to the following P3 components. The ERP effect in the N2 time range can be related to a differential social reward processing in ostracism if co-players are physically present. The lack of a corresponding correlate in the behavioral data indicates that some facets of ostracism processing are not covered by questionnaire data.
Weschke, S., & Niedeggen, M. (2013). The Effect of the Physical Presence of Co-Players on Perceived Ostracism and Event-Related Brain Potentials in the Cyberball Paradigm. PLoS ONE, 8(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0071928