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Monday, November 24, 2014 - 2:15pm

IRCS Conference Room

Catherine Norris, Swarthmore
host: Russell Epstein

All Rejection Is Not the Same: Neural, Behavioral, and Individual Difference Approaches to Understanding Social Exclusion

Humans are social creatures. Throughout life we rely on relationships with others to meet fundamental needs for food and safety, as well as to fulfill a basic need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). When our relationships are threatened in some way, we often experience what has become known as social pain. In fact, past research has demonstrated that social pain activates brain regions impliciated in the neural network associated with physical pain, in particular the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC; Eisenberger, Lieberman & Williams, 2003). This talk will expand on these ideas by exploring what studying the brain can tell us about the effects of social exclusion on (a) how we process social and emotional information and (b) attention to and memory for social cues, as well as (c) how individual differences (e.g., in self-esteem) can moderate these effects. Specifically, both chronic loneliness (Cacioppo, Norris et al., 2009) and acute social exclusion (Powers, Wagner, Norris & Heatherton, in press) reduce activation of regions of the social brain network in response to unpleasant images of other people, suggesting that the experience of social pain may decrease the deployment of theory of mind or perspective taking processes when confronting distressed peers. Furthermore, individuals with relatively low self-esteem exhibit better memory for social rejection, and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) have shown that self-esteem moderates neural responses to acute rejection and acceptance experiences (Norris & Caughey, in prep). Thus, studying the brain can shed light on the downstream consequences of social exclusion and how they differ across individuals. I will further argue that although researchers have tended to lump different forms of social exclusion into a single category, the extant data suggest that chronic forms of exclusion (like loneliness) differ from more acute forms (rejection) and our focus going forward should be to delineate the psychological processes that are shared versus unique across different forms of exclusion.