In a recent study, Stanford University discovered that ostracism-exclusion from a group or society-has positive effects on societies despite the negative connotations affiliated with the act.
Ostracism is more extensively defined as exclusion, by general consent, from common privileges or social acceptance often shown through actions such as talking behind friends’ backs or simply excluding them from an event altogether.
Common knowledge assumes these acts to have arisen from malevolent intent, thereby dismantling bonds within groups.
However, according to Stanford’s study that was published online on Jan. 27, “[gossip and ostracism] are tools by which groups reform bullies, thwart exploitation of ‘nice people’ and encourage cooperation.”
Robb Willer, an associate professor of sociology, co-worker Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford and Michael Schultz, PhD candidate from the University of California–Berkeley, collaborated together to examine the nature of gossip and ostracism.
Upon reading Stanford’s study, however, Palo Alto High School students find truth behind the researchers’ discoveries.
“This Stanford research project has some radical statements, quite different [from] what we have always been taught in school, but I can see how gossip and ostracism can have its benefits,” sophomore Itai Palmon said. “In fact, I see it almost every day at school. It’s never fun to be on the receiving end, but at the same time, gossiping and excluding can really ‘invest in the public good.’”
Willer, Feinberg and Schultz found that education by means of gossip helps people determine invaluable, or untrustworthy, members in their community. They found that within the realm of a group, information gained of peers creates an awareness that removes selfishness in the group, thus sustaining cooperation. Although purposeful exclusion can be abused, the three researchers suggest that they are of great importance to a society’s well-being. Willer, Feinberg and Schultz performed this study with 216 volunteers and divided them into groups. The groups were asked to make financial decisions that would benefit them in future rounds of the simulation.
After each round, participants were allowed to talk about about previous group members before they made any more decisions.
The researchers observed that the mere threat of isolation compelled everyone to conform and cooperate with one another at a higher level.
On the other hand, conformity also leads to a lack of variety and disregard of other possible solutions.
“Depending on the characteristics of the person being ostracized, it would definitely benefit the group to have them excluded, especially because of the negativity they bring,” sophomore Eli Givens said.
According to Stanford’s research study, people’s tendency to speak ill of each other has proven a fundamental asset to maintaining social order.
“The pairing of the capacity to gossip and to ostracize undesirable individuals from groups has a strong positive effect on cooperation levels in groups,” Willer said.

Michael Schultz and Robb Willer conduct research and discuss the positive effects of gossip and ostracism on societies.

Michael Schultz and Robb Willer conduct research and discuss the positive effects of gossip and ostracism on societies.

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