Alone and Without Purpose: Life Loses Meaning Following Social Exclusion

J Exp Soc Psychol. 2009 Jul;45(4):686-694. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.007.


Four studies (N = 643) supported the hypothesis that social exclusion would reduce the global perception of life as meaningful. Social exclusion was manipulated experimentally by having a confederate refuse to meet participants after seeing their videotaped introduction (Study 1) and by ostracizing participants in a computerized ball-tossing game (Study 2). Compared to control condition and acceptance conditions, social exclusion led to perceiving life as less meaningful. Exclusion was also operationalized as self-reported loneliness, which was a better predictor of low meaning than other potent variables (Study 3). Study 4 found support for Baumeister's model of meaning (1991), by demonstrating that the effect of exclusion on meaning was mediated by purpose, value, and positive self-worth.