Students often bully by ostracizing others – by not inviting them to parties or to sit at the lunch table. Yet, females in particular are socialized to be nice. Researchers Nicole Legate and colleagues at the University of Rochester designed experiments to see how ostracizing others affected those doing the bullying and on those being bullied. The results fit with “self-determination theory” or SDT.
In an exclusive interview with Decoded Science, Dr. Nicole Legate explained self-determination theory. “Self-determination theory is a theory of motivation, and a guiding principle behind SDT is that people have an inherent growth tendency and three fundamental needs for wellness.”
The research conducted by Dr. Legate and colleagues focuses on two of the needs identified by SDT, “autonomy (acting volitionally, not acting out of pressure or coercion) and relatedness (feeling cared about and caring for others).”
Bullied and Bullies: The Study Design
The study consisted of two separate experiments. In the first, Legate recruited 82 students to participate in research designed to study reactions to ostracizing. 62.7% of the participants were female; 37.3% were male. The students were assigned one of three roles,” ostracizer, neutral, or compliance.” The students then played a computer game called, “Cyberball.” The participants believed they were playing the game with others in another room, but in reality, they played only with pre-programmed computers.
The researchers told ‘ostracizer’ students to only throw the ball to one of the other two “players” of the game. The neutral group played with no restrictions, and the researchers told the compliance group to play with both other players in equal proportions.
The results of the first experiment upheld the researcher’s hypothesis, that the students who researchers compelled to ostracize others felt worse about themselves after the study, although they had done what the researchers asked. Both male and female undergraduates reported feeling “negative affect” after ostracizing others. Because they were following instructions to ostracize, students also reported feeling a loss of autonomy, one of the psychological needs cited as important in SDT.
In the second experiment, 70 students, 74.3% women, were assigned to play Cyberball. The primary difference was that actual students, rather than computer-generated students, were ostracized during the game.
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