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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: August 2010

7 - Rejection: Resolving the Paradox of Emotional Numbness after Exclusion



The need for positive and stable relationships is among the most basic and fundamental of human needs. Like the need for food, shelter, and sleep, the need to belong is deeply rooted within evolutionary history and has a profound influence on contemporary psychological processes (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Given the fundamental nature of the need to belong, it would seem somewhat straightforward that social exclusion would cause dramatic increases in emotional distress. This increased emotion distress after social exclusion should, in turn, cause various behavioral responses. Despite the intuitive appeal of this hypothesized model, converging evidence points to an altered perspective regarding how people respond to social exclusion. Multiple studies have shown that the behavioral effects of social exclusion are quite large (Baumeister, Twenge, & Nuss, 2002; Buckley, Winkel, & Leary, 2004), but the emotional effects are frequently small or nonexistent. Socially excluded participants often report emotional states that do not differ from those of participants in accepted or control conditions (Baumeister, DeWall, Ciaracco, & Twenge, 2005; Gardner, Pickett, & Brewer, 2000; Twenge, Baumeister, Tice, & Stucke, 2001; Zadro, Williams, & Richardson, 2004). Psychologists are therefore confronted with a paradox as to why people respond to such a momentous event as social exclusion with relative emotional detachment and numbness.

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