Blogs by MidAmerica Nazarene University staff and faculty.
You've experienced it! We all have to one degree or another; social exclusion. It might be casual. You are with friends or acquaintances. A conversation is ongoing while you all sit around a large table in a restaurant. You have been quiet, but decide now to contribute your point of view to the conversation. When you have finished, there is quiet. Some heads have turned your direction, others are looking down at their plate of food. The conversation has come to a halt. Have you said something stupid, or what? You don't know. For whatever reasons, your words are now being totally ignored and the others re-engage conversation to where it was before you entered.
This might be a simple: "just get over it" situation. But it's not! You are feeling the pain of social exclusion. And it's real. The brain will confirm it. Multiple studies have utilized brain imaging to assess its activity while in a similar, yet seemingly less intense situation. While you lay prone and motionless in an MRI machine, you watch as 3 animated characters play catch with a ball. One of them is identified as you. The other 2 have been identified to you as persons at other computer sites. They, like you, have buttons to push which will determine exactly who your little animated character will throw the ball to when you have it in your possession. Everything is going very smoothly. The ball is being passed around. Then, quite unexpectedly, you notice neither one of them is throwing the ball to you—20, 30, 40 throws and none of them are coming to you. Do you feel it? You bet you do.
The brain image to the right is one from a subject experiencing the throwing game we've just described. Two areas are of real interest -- the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex with the white circle in the left image. This is the area where you experience the real hurtfulness—the angst. It would be activated in the same way if someone were to force a needle in the top of your hand. The second area is the insula, seen in the right image of the picture. The large area of activity circled in white is most likely assessing the degree of disgust you are experiencing for the other two players.
This all is a consequence of real hurt and strong emotions, and its only a game! When experimenters try to reason with the subjects in the study of this fact and even of the fact that the other 2 players were not people at all but computer programming, the disgust activity goes away but not the activity in the dorsal anterior cingulated cortex. The pain remains.
For further information: www.ScientificAmerican.com/Mind Jan/Feb, 2011