Social exclusion and pain sensitivity: Why exclusion sometimes hurts and sometimes numbs

Michael J. Bernstein, Heather M. Claypool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


Some research indicates that social exclusion leads to increased emotional- and physical-pain sensitivity, whereas other work indicates that exclusion causes emotional- and physical-pain numbing. This research sought to examine what causes these opposing outcomes. In Study 1, the paradigm used to instantiate social exclusion was found to moderate the social exclusion-physical pain relation: Future-life exclusion led to a numbing of physical pain whereas Cyberball exclusion led to hypersensitivity. Study 2 examined the underlying mechanism, which was hypothesized to be the severity of the "social injury." Participants were subjected to either the standard future-life exclusion manipulation (purported to be a highly severe social injury) or a newly created, less-severe version. Supporting our hypothesis, the standard (highly severe) future-life exclusion led to physical-pain numbing, whereas the less-severe future-life exclusion resulted in hypersensitivity. Implications of these results for understanding the exclusion-pain relation and other exclusion effects are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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