Social Exclusion and Early-Stage Interpersonal Perception: Selective Attention to Signs of Acceptance

C. Nathan DeWall, Jon K. Maner, D. Aaron Rouby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

289 Scopus citations


Social exclusion can thwart people's powerful need for social belonging. Whereas prior studies have focused primarily on how social exclusion influences complex and cognitively downstream social outcomes (e.g., memory, overt social judgments and behavior), the current research examined basic, early-in-the-cognitive-stream consequences of exclusion. Across 4 experiments, the threat of exclusion increased selective attention to smiling faces, reflecting an attunement to signs of social acceptance. Compared with nonexcluded participants, participants who experienced the threat of exclusion were faster to identify smiling faces within a "crowd" of discrepant faces (Experiment 1), fixated more of their attention on smiling faces in eye-tracking tasks (Experiments 2 and 3), and were slower to disengage their attention from smiling faces in a visual cueing experiment (Experiment 4). These attentional attunements were specific to positive, social targets. Excluded participants did not show heightened attention to faces conveying social disapproval or to positive nonsocial images. The threat of social exclusion motivates people to connect with sources of acceptance, which is manifested not only in "downstream" choices and behaviors but also at the level of basic, early-stage perceptual processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-741
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • affiliation
  • attention
  • reconnection
  • rejection
  • social exclusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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