Azhar Aziz  |  Singapore
Published 2014-05-27 11:30:02

Social media users who receive no feedback or interaction on Facebook experience lower levels of belonging and self-esteem than those who do, a study by the University of Queensland (School of Psychology) found.

Published online on 7 March this year, the study involved a total of 76 students from the University of Queensland. Participants were divided into two groups – no feedback and feedback – and they were instructed to post a status and select a profile picture as part of the experiment. Posts by participants in the no feedback group were set to invisible during the experiment.


Results showed that students in the no feedback group had a mean score of 3.14 for self-esteem, as compared to those in the feedback group with 3.68. Participants in the no feedback group also experienced lower sense of inclusion and belonging with mean scores of 2.46 and 3.19 respectively as compared to those in the feedback group (3.90 and 4.05).

The biggest take-away from this study is probably how simply being ignored in Facebook can affect one’s needs and emotional well-being. The experiment also seems to suggest that as we are more socially connected to each other, our self-confidence and belonging become indirectly more dependent on our communication with others.

Social networking sites such as Facebook give people on demand access to reminders of their social relationships and allow them to communicate with others whenever they desire. Our findings suggest that it is communication, rather than simple use, that is key in producing a sense of belonging. When sharing or feedback is restricted, belonging suffers.

Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald
Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

This is not the first time researchers had attempted to delve deeper into how e-ostracism can affect one’s self-esteem. In 2010, psychologists at the University of Kent developed a study involving 41 eight and nine-year-old children, 79 thirteen and fourteen-year-olds and 46 twenty-year-old adults.

Participants were instructed to play a game of ‘cyberball’. Three players were involved in every game, requiring them to pass a ball to each other.

Two scenarios were set up as part of the experiment: In games where the player was included, they threw and received the ball four times within the trial. Conversely, in games where the participant is ignored, he or she only received the ball twice at the start while the other two players continued to play exchange throws between themselves.

In a statement published by Science Daily, lead researcher Professor Abrams, said: “For all age groups, online ostracism substantially threatened the four basic needs – esteem, belonging, meaning and control – and also lowered their mood, showing that social exclusion online is very powerful even among children.

The University of Kent study went further to prove that the effect ostracism on one’s self-esteem is higher on eight and nine-year-old children more than the other groups. Adolescents and adults have a higher tolerance against threats to self-esteem with regards to online rejection.

Photo: Research Digest
Photo: Research Digest

Perhaps even more alarming is another study by Purdue University expert Prof Kipling D. Williams in 2011. It revealed that being ostracised or rejected can leave a more deeper and long-lasting than physical injury itself.

Prof Williams explained that when a person is ostracised, the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain, also feels this social injury. Moreover, ostracism is also experienced in three stages – the initial acts of being ignored or excluded, coping and resignation – leading to a more long-lasting pain.


A quick check by Vulcan Post showed that there is at least one dedicated website on ostracism awareness (http://ostracism-awareness.com/). The page carries links and manuals for anyone who may be suffering from rejection or abandonment.

It is not known exactly who or when was website set up. However, the website’s information page published the following text:

Ostracism is any act of banishing, shunning, ignoring, or excluding. It can be carried out by one individual upon another or by a group. It comes in many forms and levels of severity … It is my hope that this website will help people make informed decisions about ostracism. As people become aware of ostracism’s effects and other options available for resolving conflicts, hopefully it will save some friendships and relationships.


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