Its easy to kid ourselves we’re more independent than we are. Today you can remove yourself physically from community living; work from home, chat via social media and even shop without entering a store.
We no longer need to fit in to survive like we did when we lived in caves. Or before the advent of the train, car or plane. But is that just an illusion? Have we actually adapted at all?
If so, why does it hurt when people turn their back on you for no reason? Whats the big deal? If you can amass thousands of friends on Facebook, then why fret when a couple suddenly befriend you online or go off you in class or at the office?
That’s what scientists have been focusing on over the last decade. Their interest was hyped by a spate of school shootings by students who been isolated by classmates. Why do we still react so badly to being shunned?
The results reaffirmed that nothing has changed at all. Fitting in and socialising is as much a part of human life as it ever was. In fact it impacts on almost everything we do.
Early experiments were carried out in a lab. Today they have moved to the internet. To study rejection inside an fMRI scanner, researchers used a technique called Cyberball, which Kipling Williams of Purdue University designed following his own experience of being suddenly excluded by a couple of Frisbee throwers at the park.
In this test, the subject plays an online game of catch with two other players. Eventually these team mates begin throwing the ball only to each other, excluding the other person. Compared with volunteers who continue to be included, those who are rejected show increased movement in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula — two of the regions that display heightened activity in response to physical pain.
Cyberball does more than prove rejection, though. It seems to confirm that there is little you can do to avoid the feeling of sadness. If this was a normal everyday event whereby people you care about begin to deliberately exclude you from their conversation, it would be rational to feel confused or upset. But the on line experiment is a game is between unknown players and the entire situation is completely rigged. In other words, you know you are going to be ignored and yet you still suffer the anguish.
It seems we haven’t changed a bit. If knowledge is power, then Cyberball is a worthy trial. You can download it online.