J Appl Beh av Res. 2 019; 00 :e12173. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jabr
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© 2019 Wiley Per iodica ls, Inc.
Received: 18 July 2018
Revised: 15 August 2019
Accepted: 3 September 2019
DOI : 10.1111 /ja br.1217 3
Learning to cope with everyday instances of social
exclusion: A review of emotional and cognitive
strategies for children and adolescents
Susanna Timeo1 | Paolo Riva2 | Maria Paola Paladino1
1Department of Psychology and Cognitive
Science , University of Trento, Rovereto,
2Depar tment of Psychology, University of
Milano‐Bicocca, Milano, Italy
Susann a Timeo, D epartment of Ps ycholog y
and Cognitive Science, University of Trento,
Corso Bettini 8 4, 380 68 Rovereto ( TN),
Carit ro Foundation, Gr ant/Award Number:
Over 20 years of research has shown that social exclusion is
a pervasive and powerful form of social threat. Social exclu‐
sion causes a wide variety of negative outcomes including
negative emotions and threats to fundamental human needs
(i.e., self‐esteem). Most importantly, experiencing exclusion
during childhood or adolescence can provoke long‐term
negative effects such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Despite the growing interest in this domain, only recent
studies have started to examine possible coping strategies
to contrast the negative effects of exclusion. In this article,
we first review the empirical findings concerning the conse‐
quences of social exclusion in children and adolescent popu‐
lations. Second, we focus on cognitive and socio‐emotional
strategies that children and adolescents can use to deal with
exclusion when it has occurred. Implications and future di‐
rections are discussed.
adolescence, childhood, emotion regulation, psychological coping
strategies, social exclusion
1 | SOCIAL EXCLUSION IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS:
UNDERSTANDING ITS NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES AND NEW
PERSPECTIVES ON COPING STRATEGIES
Having meaningful social connections is perhaps the most fundament al psychological human need Baumeister
& Leary, 1995). The need to belong is expressed throughout the life c ycle, including the first phases of life. The
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newborn turns in search of a face, for human contact (Valenza, Simion, Cassia, & Umiltà, 1996) and prefers a
warm caregiver, independently of food supply (for monkeys, Harlow, 1958). During infancy and adolescence, the
orientation toward social relationships shifts from caregivers to peers. In this period, children are faced with new
challenges. They start to interact with same‐age companions and not only with more mature and compliant adult
figures. In this context, dysfunc tional interactions may arise (Asher, & Coie, 1990), among these experiences of
social exclusion. Importantly, for children these relational challenges represent oppor tunities to learn how to reg‐
ulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and to adjust to the social environment.
Social exclusion has been broadly defined as the experience of being kept apart from others physically (e.g.,
social isolation) or emotionally (e.g., being ignored or told one is not wanted; see Riva & Eck, 2016). According to
recent work in this area (see also Wesselmann et al., 2016), social exclusion can be further distinguished into two
main phenomena, rejection and ostracism.1 Although rejection involves an overt refuse to interact, ostracism is
primarily characterized by the act of ignoring a person (Wesselmann et al., 2016). Both rejection and ostracism can
have detrimental effects on children and adolescents’ well‐being, and, if prolonged, may lead to psychopathologi‐
cal disorders (Gazelle & Ladd, 2003; Ladd, 2006).
In this article, we will first review principal empirical findings concerning the negative consequences of being
excluded in typically developing children and adolescents (Abrams, Weick, Thomas, Colbe, & Franklin, 2011;
Sebastian, Viding, Williams, & Blakemore, 2010). Traditionally developmental studies have investigated peer re‐
jection and exclusion occurring in real‐life contex ts (i.e., students being rejected at school; Bierman, Miller, &
Stabb, 1987; Buhs & Ladd, 2001; Buhs, Ladd, & Herald, 2006; Gazelle & Ladd, 2003; Ladd, 2006; Pedersen, Vitaro,
Barker, & Borge, 2007; for a review see Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). Only recently, and based on findings
on adults (Riva & Eck, 2016), research has started to examine experimentally the emotional, cognitive, behavioral,
and health‐related effects of the experience of exclusion, especially ostracism. These studies are relevant as they
have identified causal pathways (e.g., being aggressive is a consequence and not only an antecedent of exclusion),
and established that an experience of exclusion—even when subtle (e.g., being ignored) and unique—elicit s a series
of—proximal and downstream—consequences (Williams, 2009). Like all methodological approaches, experiments
have advantages and disadvantages. An undoubted advantage over correlational studies is the possibility of mea‐
suring the effect s of an independent on a dependent variable net of confounding variables. Given their relevance
for the field and that recent review is missing, in this article, we will mostly focus on the principal findings in which
exclusion has been experimentally manipulated in the developmental population.
Second, we will turn our attention to psychological strategies that could be used in order to cope with the
negative effects of the exclusion situation. Specifically, we will rely on a classification recently proposed as a
framework to organize empirical evidence on adults (Timeo, Riva, & Paladino, 2019) and discuss its applicability to
children and adolescents who are experiencing exclusion.
2 | THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIAL EXCLUSION IN THE
Social exclusion is a painful experience and can cause a wide variety of negative effects. According to the Temporal
Need‐Threat model (Williams, 2009), the effects of ostracism occur in three stages: reflexive, reflective, and res‐
ignation. The reflexive stage refers to the first reaction to ostracism, that is characterized by an increase in nega‐
tive emotions and a decrease in fundamental psychological needs satisfac tion (i.e., self‐esteem, belong, control,
and the need for a meaningful existence). According to Williams (20 09), this first negative response will always
occur, as humans have an intrinsic need to be accepted. Only in the second phase, the reflective one, the victim of
1 In other l ines of researc h in development al psycholog y, rejection an d exclusion are us ed to refer t o negati ve interp ersona l peer experie nces based
on pers onality char acteristic s or behaviors (r ejection) an d to based on e thnic, gende r, or other b iases (exclusio n), respe ctivel y (see Killen, Ru tland, &
Jampol , 2009 for det ails on thi s distinctio n).
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ostracism will start to deal with its negative effects and individual differences will emerge. Finally, when ostracism
is prolonged and cann ot be overcome, there is the resignation stage, where the victim becomes apathetic and un‐
able to react (Riva, Montali, Wir th, Curioni, & Williams, 2017). Here we will review effect s observed at reflexive
2.1 | Effects on emotions
Correlational studies on children and adolescents have shown that being excluded by peers triggers negative
emotions, lessens self‐esteem, and is linked to internalizing problems like depression and social anxiety (Gazelle &
Ladd, 2003; Ladd, 2006; Pedersen et al., 2007), along with externalizing behavior problems (Abrams et al., 2011).
With children and adolescents, exclusion has been manipulated by giving bogus feedback of not being chosen (or
being rejected) by others for doing an activity (Reijntjes, Stegge, Terwogt, Kamphuis, & Telch, 2006) or being left
out during the Cyberball, an online ball‐tossing game (Abrams et al., 2011). These studies have confirmed that chil‐
dren exposed to exclusion report an increase in negative effects (Reijntjes et al., 2006). More importantly, follow‐
ing ostracism, children and adolescents seem to suffer a greater threat to their fundamental needs (self‐esteem,
belong, control, and meaningful existence) and to show more negative emotions compared to their excluded adult
counterpart (Abrams et al., 2011). Specifically, Abrams et al. (2011) showed an age‐related need threat. In their
sample, self‐esteem was threatened more by ostracism at 8–9 years of age while belonging was threatened more
at 13–14 years of age. These results highlight the developmental changes that might occur both in the importance
of different needs at different ages and in the various ef fect s that social exclusion might have on children's and
2.2 | Effects on cognitive functions
Beyond the emotional domain, social exclusion seems to influence also cognitive abilities. Whereas some stud‐
ies found a link between peer rejection and academic performance (Buhs & Ladd, 2001; Buhs et al., 2006), few
studies were able to provide causal evidence of the negative impact of exclusion on cognitive functioning. In one
study, Hawes et al. (2012) found that 8–13‐year‐old girls (but not boys) exposed to an ostracism condition scored
significantly lower in a working memory test than those in the inclusion condition. The authors interpreted this
gender effect either to be related to anger (girls were angrier than boys were af ter exclusion) or to the interfer‐
ence of rumination (girls tend to ruminate more than boys do). Another study (Tobia, Riva, & Caprin, 2017) tested
9–12‐year‐old children’s performance on a logical reasoning test after ostracism. Results revealed that, following
exclusion, children who were low in popularity, self‐esteem, and nonverbal intelligence showed poorer perfor‐
mances in the test than their included counterpart.
2.3 | Effects on behavior
Social exclusion also causes a wide variety of relational outcomes. One well‐known behavioral response to exclu‐
sion is pro‐sociality and conformism. Various studies have shown that also children as young as 4 years of age en‐
gage in affiliative and imitative behavior after being primed with vicarious exclusion (i.e., Song, Over, & Carpenter,
2015; Wat son‐Jones, Legare, Whitehouse, & Clegg, 2014). In ef fect, the primary function of exclusion is social
control. Social groups can use exclusion to punish individuals that undertook some deviant behavior (Williams,
2009). By engaging in prosocial and conformist behavior, the individual is communicating his/her intention to fol‐
low the group rules. This type of response has been considered the best‐fitting type of reaction to re‐establish the
preceding relationship. It could be useful for young children when they respond to punitive exclusion from adults,
and they will be immediately re‐included after conforming to the social norm that is required. However, this type
of response might be not so adaptive if exclusion is used in a malicious manner, to maintain some group division.
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Exclusion and hostility can also be used in order to maintain the social hierarchy and boundaries in preadolescent
cliques (Adler & Adler, 1995).
Another common response to exclusion is aggression. Although it does not seem a convenient response to make
new bonding with peers, this response is frequently obser ved in children who have repeatedly been rejected (i.e.,
Asher, Rose, & Gabriel, 2001). Experimental studies also found that children and adolescents exposed to rejection
manipulation responded more aggressively than their included counterparts (Reijntjes et al., 2010; Sandstrom &
Herlan, 2007) and adolescents diminished their prosocial behavior when faced with ostracism (Coyne, Gundersen,
Nelson, & Stockdale, 2011). Although the reasons for the aggressive response could be numerous, that is, the lack
of self‐regulation or the perception of exclusion as a threat for the self (i.e., Leary, Twenge, & Quinlivan, 2006), one
study has found that the attribution of hostile intentions mediated the relationship between rejection and aggres‐
sion in a sample of preadolescents (Reijntjes et al., 2011). The more participants attributed hostile intention to their
perpetrator, the more they were inclined to behave aggressively. In this perspective, although aggression does not
seem the best way to deal with social exclusion, it might be a defensive reaction when the victim perceives that
exclusion is malicious and the relationship unrepairable so that pro‐sociality would only bring new threats.
The last (and least) studied behavioral response to exclusion is self‐isolation (Ren, Wesselmann, & Williams, 2016).
At sc hool, chil dren who exp erience peer reject io n in class te nd to re du ce classroom par ti ci pa ti on (Bu hs & Lad d, 2001;
Buhs et al., 2006), which in turn may affect their academic achievement. Some recent experimental studies with
adults (Ren et al., 2016) found that participants, especially those who were introverts, might choose to play alone in
a task following ostracism. This behavior might not only be the result of the motivation to avoid painful situations but
also as an opportunity to reflect upon and cope with the exclusion experience. Future studies should be carried out
to understand the motivation, so as well as the benefits and the backlashes of these behavioral effects.
2.4 | Effects on health
Although it may assume various forms, exclusion remains hurtful. The pain connected with exclusion, defined as
social pain, has been associated with the experience of physical pain (Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004) and identi‐
fied as a cause of distress for the human mind (Baum, Lee, & Dougall, 2011). At the behavioral level, many studies
have confirmed chronic rejection and ostracism to be linked with depression and anxiet y among adolescents
(Abrams et al., 2011; Ladd, 2006; Pedersen et al., 20 07). In addition, neuroimaging studies investigated brain re‐
sponses to social pain in children and adolescents (i.e., Crowley, Wu, Molfese, & Mayes, 2010; Masten et al., 2009).
A recent meta‐analysis of fMRI studies compared age‐related neural responses to ostracism from childhood to
young adulthood (Vijayakumar, Cheng, & Pfeifer, 2017). The authors found an activation within the Anterior
Cingulate Cortex (ACC), which is considered one marker for socio‐emotional distress, the ventrolateral Prefrontal
Cortex (PFC) and lateral Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC), involved in emotion regulation and precuneus and poste‐
rior cingulate cortices, that support mentalizing processes. However, children and adolescents showed different
activations in the PFC compared to young adults (ventrolateral vs. medial PFC). Moreover, only the developmen‐
tal sample showed activation in the ventral striatum (VS). These differences made the authors hypothesize that
children and adolescents are still developing their mechanisms of emotion regulation and coping with exclusion.
Moreover, another function that seems disrupted by social exclusion is the inhibition of impulses and the
fundamental capacit y to self‐regulate. Salvy et al. (2011) showed that overweight adolescent s ate more cookies
following an exclusion than an inclusion manipulation. Another study (Barkley, Salvy, & Roemmich, 2012) found
that 8–12‐year‐old children engaged in less physical activity following exclusion. Although the mechanisms ac‐
counting for the link between exclusion and self‐regulation are yet to be tested, one potential candidate is ru‐
mination. E xcluded people tend to linger in the elaboration of the hurtful experience; therefore, some of their
cognitive resources are already allocated in the situation that caused one's distress. One study has demonstrated
rumination to be detrimental for the recover y after exclusion (Wesselmann, Ren, Swim, & Williams, 2013). Others
studies also showed that excluded people pay more attention to social cues (i.e., distinguish between real or fake
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facial emotional expressions, Bernstein, Young, Brown, Sacco, & Claypool, 2008). In this perspective, the cognitive
resources of the person may be more strongly devoted to the social domain, probably in search of a re‐inclusion
or other incoming threats, consuming resources from the self‐regulatory abilities.
3 | STRATEGIES TO HELP CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS COPING
WITH THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF EXCLUSION
Being excluded can have a series of negative emotional, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. However, people
can cope with this experience alleviating its negative effects. In this section, we will focus on coping strategies for
experiences of exclusion. According to Williams model (2009), coping strategies generally intervene in the window
between the reflexive and the reflec tive stage. After the first painful response (i.e., reflexive stage), victims of
exclusion start to deal with it, coping strategies might be used, and their efficacy would emerge in the reflective
stage in terms of faster emotional and needs threat recovery or reduced negative and maladaptive responses.
Only recently researchers have started to experimentally investigate the efficacy of these strategies (Riva,
2016; Timeo et al., 2019). Studies have been especially carried out in the adult population (for a review see Timeo
et al., 2019); rarely does research focus on children and adolescents. Past developmental research on peer exclu‐
sion and rejection has in fact mainly focused on inter ventions that prevent or diminish the occurrence of exclusion
for children and adolescents. These interventions typically act on the context (i.e., classroom climate, Mikami,
Boucher, & Humphreys, 2005) or on the individual's abilities of victims of exclusion (i.e., development of social
skills; Bierman et al., 1987) and are ultimately designed to remove the antecedents of exclusion. Dif ferently, cop‐
ing strategies refer to the—spontaneous or intentional—psychological process that children and adolescents can
use to cope with exclusion when it has occurred. The few studies conducted with children and adolescents repre‐
sent an important omission, given the greater psychological impact of social exclusion on developmental samples
(Abrams et al., 2011) and the immaturity of their emotion regulation abilities (Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, &
Twenge, 2005). In addition, nowadays, sources of exclusion have multiplied, as children and adolescents are ex‐
posed to many social contexts besides their family and friends (i.e., classes, spor ts team, and extra‐school groups),
both in the real and in the virtual world (Allen, Ryan, Gray, McInerney, & Waters, 2014).
Given the rare studies on children and adolescents, we rely on a theoretical classification recently proposed
as organizing framework for the results emerging on adults (Timeo, Riva, & Paladino, 2019). Coping strategies we
will discuss are grouped into two categories—the “Changing perspective strategies” and the “Strategies to restore
the threatened needs”—based on the different perspectives they take with respect to the exclusion situation. The
Changing perspective strategies are cognitive approaches that help victims to reinterpret exclusion, to put it into
a broader perspective or to change their beliefs about the meaning and effects of this experience. Strategies to
restore the threatened needs aim at reinforcing the self and are intended to make the person stronger, more self‐
confident, to deal with different social and personal challenges. Here, we make a parallel between the use of these
strategies in the adult population and the possible application with children and adolescents. We are aware of the
fact that models of adult cognition and emotional world cannot simply be translated to those of children and ad‐
olescent s. Some psychological strategies used successfully with adults may not be appropriate for the developing
mind. In this respect, when a coping strateg y has not been tested with children or adolescents in the context of
exclusion yet, we present studies that tested the efficacy of the same strategy to cope with similar negative events
in developmental populations (i.e., peer victimization, stressful events).
3.1 | Changing perspective strategies
In this category are listed all the strategies that make the victim think differently about the situation. They act in
different ways by helping the victim to detach him/herself from the threat and relativize it s importance (detached
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perspective), by finding positive aspec ts in the negative event (positive reappraisal), acknowledging the flowing of
the experiences and accepting that, sometimes, bad things can happen (mindfulness) and redirecting attention to
less negative things (refocusing).
3.1.1 | Detached perspective
Putting a negative event into perspective helps to downsize its seriousness by emphasizing the relativity of its
effects and comparing one's own experience to one of others. For instance, in a social psychological intervention
on freshman universit y students, research helped participants to reflect upon the difficulties of the first year of
college. In the intervention, older student s told participants that they had experienced the same problems and
fears, but, that, in the end, they overcame the situation, and things started to get better (Walton & Cohen, 2011).
Another way of putting the situation into perspective is self‐distancing, which consists of looking at one's own
experience by taking the perspective of an external obser ver. By distancing, people reframe the negative situation
with less emotional arousal, because self‐protection mechanisms are less involved, and they can give a rational
meaning and closure to the event. In effect, with adults, self‐distancing has shown positive effects when coping
with negative experiences (Kross, Ayduk, & Mischel, 20 05).
In the context of social exclusion no studies have tested self‐distancing strategies, neither with children nor
with adults. However, studies on coping with negative events have found that when children and adolescents
recall an unpleasant situation from a self‐distanced perspec tive, they recall less “hot” emotional cues than when
they recall it from a self‐immersed perspective. This reconstruction allowed them to blame the other person less
and to react less emotionally (Kross, Duckworth, Ayduk, Tsukayama, & Mischel, 2011; White, Kross, & Duckworth,
2015). Another experimental study with children, adolescents, and young adults have shown that negative affect
was diminished when distancing from than when immersing with negative stimuli (Silvers et al., 2012). Moreover,
a recent study found that self‐distancing improves executive functioning and t ask persistence in a group of pre‐
school children (White & Carlson, 2016).
To test whether self‐distancing might also help children and adolescents to cope against the negative ef‐
fects of social exclusion, we conducted a study on 106 preadolescents (Mage = 12.05 years). We manipulated
the exclusion condition through the number of “likes” participants received on their profile ( Wolf et al., 2015),
so that in the inclusion condition participants receive a number of “likes” comparable to other profiles, while
in the exclusion condition they receive only one “like.” The self‐distancing strategy was implemented using the
thi rd‐pe rs on p er spective (e.g. , se e Wh ite & Ca rlson, 2016), so that par ti cipants in the self‐dis tanc ing con dition
were asked to write down their exclusion experience using the third‐person perspective, while participants in
the self‐immersion condition were asked to use a first‐person perspective and to focus on their emotions and
feelings. Finally, participants in th e control condition were asked to write down present‐mome nt th oughts. An
analysis of the text writ ten by the participants showed that only 11 of 25 par ticipants in the self‐distancing
condition cou ld follow the instructions and used the third‐person per spe ctive to recall their expe rience, while
the rest used the first‐person perspective. However, adolescents that were able to use the third‐person per‐
spective showed a greater recovery of the depleted needs than those in control, and marginally than those in
the immersion condition.
This study is a first attempt to test the efficacy of a self‐distancing strategy to cope against social exclusion in
a cohort of preadolescents. Although there is limited power, results seem to suggest this strategy may be effective
in restoring the depleted need satisfaction after an episode of exclusion (belong, self‐esteem, control, and mean‐
ingful existence), at least for some children. However, this study also sheds light on a possible obstacle of using this
cognitive emotion‐regulation strategy with children and adolescents, namely the maturation of cognitive abilities.
In effect, our sample of preadolescents struggled in following the self‐distancing instruction, so that less than a
half managed to use it. Because during the entire adolescence, people are still developing their regulation abilities
(Silvers et al., 2012), they may not be able to implement some of these cognitive strategies successfully.
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3.1. 2 | Positive reappraisal
Positive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that consists of reframing a negative situation in positive
terms, as an occasion of learning and personal growth (Gross, 1998). In the context of social exclusion, some stud‐
ies with adults have proved positive reappraisal to reduce aggressiveness af ter exclusion (Poon & Chen, 2016;
Sethi, Moulds, & Richardson, 2013). For children and adolescents, some studies have focused on the implicit
theory of personality and mindset as buffers against the effects of exclusion (Yeager, Trzesniewski, & Dweck,
2013; Yeager, Trzesniewski, Tirri, Nokelainen, & Dweck, 2011). Specifically, researchers have compared the en‐
tity theory of personality, which states that personality is a stable attribute that cannot be changed, against the
incremental theory of personality, which is open to the possibilit y that personal characteristics can be changed.
Results showed that adolescents with an increment al theory of personality showed less desire for vengeance after
a recalled peer conflict than those with and entity theory (Yeager et al., 2011). Most importantly, results showed
that this perspective might be taught (positive reappraisal), so that, after inducing a belief of incremental theory,
adolescents showed less aggressive responses after exclusion (Yeager et al., 2011).
Other studies have found a correlation between less use of positive reappraisal with internalizing problems
like depression and anxiety disorders (Carthy, Horesh, Apter, Edge, & Gross, 2010; Garnefski, Rieffe, Jellesma,
Terwogt, & Kraaij, 2007; Legerstee, Garnefski, Jellesma, Verhulst, & Utens, 2010). At the experimental level, one
study with adolescents has compared the efficacy of different types of emotion regulation strategies (positive
reappraisal, mindful acceptance, distancing, and rumination) to cope against a general stressful situation (Rood,
Roelofs, Bögels, & Arntz, 2012). Positive reappraisal has shown the largest effect in increasing positive affect
and decreasing negative affect, when thinking about a recent stressful situation. Moreover, cognitive reappraisal
seems to be linked with cognitive performance. A study showed that children who were taught reappraisal tech‐
niques reported attenuated emotional processing and displayed better memory for educational material (Davis
& Levine, 2013). Overall, positive reappraisal can be a beneficial technique to train children and adolescents to
cope with social exclusion. High levels of reappraisal have been linked with adaptive regulation capabilities; these
abilities are still emerging through childhood and adolescence (Silvers et al., 2012) and may then be improved
with training. However, studies involving mindset have shown that already at younger age children may be taught
positive reappraisal techniques (Schroder et al., 2017).
3.1.3 | Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been defined as the “awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the pre‐
sent moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat‐Zinn, 20 03). The
two core elements of this approach are focused attention on the present moment and acceptance of the events
and thoughts without judgment. On one side, focused attention consists of being aware of the present moment
(i.e., focusing attention on the breath; Germer, 2005). On the other side, acceptance consists of welcoming any
situation or feeling that occurs, without judgment, recognizing that not ever y experience can be pleasant and
positive (Germer, 2005).
In the context of exclusion, some studies with adult s and college students investigated the effects of brief
mindfulness training (Chan, 2012; Heppner, 2005; Molet, Macquet, Lefebvre, & Williams, 2013) finding promising
results of this strategy in diminishing negative emotions and fostering recovery after rejection. Moreover, other
studies have found trait mindfulness (Jones, Wirth, Ramsey, & Wynsma, 2019) and mindfulness‐based inter ven‐
tion (Ramsey & Jones, 2015) to reduce the propensity to commit ostracism.
A mindfulness‐based strategy has never been studied in the context of social exclusion with children and
adolescents. However, various studies with children and adolescents have highlighted beneficial effects of mind‐
fulness on stress resilience, anxiety, depression and cognitive performance (for a review see, Zenner, Herrnleben‐
Kurz, & Walach, 2014). In this perspective, if young populations learn to accept exclusion as one of the possible
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negative (but common) interactions that they might encounter during their days, they will not charge this episode
with much anxiety, but they will instead focus their attention on their subsequent experience. This, in turn, may
lead to a bet ter recover y from this stressful situation.
3.1.4 | Refocusing
Refocusing or distraction consists of turning the at tention away from the unpleasant situation into something
less negative. Among other types, positive refocusing specifically guides attention toward positive thought s and
is considered a cognitive emotion‐regulation strategy (Garnefski, Kraaij, & Spinhoven, 2001). This type of strat‐
egy can be compared with the opposite response that is rumination, which consists of overthinking the negative
experience (Garnefski et al., 20 04). Rumination is considered a negative strategy to cope with as it does not allow
the person to move forward the negative situation. In effect, rumination has been linked to internalizing problems
in adolescents (Li, DiGiuseppe, & Froh, 2006). On the other side, refocusing has revealed promising result s in
controlling physical pain. For example, children who were distracted during a blood draw repor ted significantly
less pain and anxiety than the control group (Inal & Kelleci, 2012). In the field of social exclusion, few stud‐
ies have tested the effects of refocusing only with adults. Findings have shown this strategy to reduce distress
after exclusion more than rumination (Wesselmann et al., 2013) and similarly to self‐affirmation strategy (Hales,
Wesselmann, & Williams, 2016).
Children and adolescents may probably use refocusing more easily than other cognitive strategies (i.e., de‐
tached perspective or reappraisal) as it probably requires less cognitive ef fort. In effect, they already use refo‐
cusing when they play video games, go chatting on social networks, or watch T V, after having a bad day at school.
However, some authors have questioned the ef fectiveness of refocusing in the long term (i.e., Linehan, 1993). If a
chi ld gets a bad grade or ha s been dero gated at sc hool, wou ld it be usef ul to play video games? Pro bably at th e be‐
ginning, this would help to cool down the child's arousal. However, also, in this case, a study showed that excluded
people tend to choose aggressive video games after exclusion and that this choice fosters their aggressiveness
toward their perpetrators (Gabbiadini & Riva, 2018). Refocusing in the long term would likely not allow children
to deal with the situation, to learn how to cope with their negative feelings, and, most importantly, to engage in
behaviors that could improve their relationships.
In the end, refocusing might be easy to implement in the first phases after exclusion has occurred, as a tempo‐
rary measure, and it may probably work bet ter when exclusion occurs sporadically.
3.2 | Strategies to restore the threatened needs
Social exclusion is a direct threat to the self. In effect, exclusion threats individual fundamental needs such as self‐
esteem, belong, control, and meaningful existence (Williams, 2009). When a threat to the self is perceived, ways
to cope with it include reaffirming one's value or dismiss the source of the threat (self‐affirmation or derogation of
the perpetrators), thinking about other positive interpersonal or idealistic realationships (reminders of social bonds
or surrogates), and reaffirming one's own control or power over the situation.
3.2.1 | Self‐affirmation and derogation of the perpetrators
Self‐affirmation consists of reminding oneself values and positive characteristics (Steele, 1999). In the context of
social exclusion, self‐affirmation strategies have been used in the adult population with promising results (Burson,
Crocker, & Mischkowski, 2012; Hales et al., 2016). For children and adolescents, to our knowledge, only one
study has indirectly implemented a strategy connected to self‐affirmation against exclusion (Baldwin, Baccus, &
Milyavskaya, 2010). In their experiment, the authors used a conditioning intervention. In a computer‐like game,
participants saw names connected to the self (i.e., “I” or “me”) or other self‐irrelevant names (i.e., unfamiliar
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names). When participant s clicked on names, a face appeared. The face could be smiling, frowning, or neutral. In
the positive condition, smiling faces were only paired with self‐relevant words. In the control condition, smiling
faces were randomly paired with self‐relevant or irrelevant words. Participants were then presented with a rejec‐
tion scenario (a person does not want the participant to sit next to them), and their aggressive intentions were
collected. Participant s in the positive condition were less likely to behave aggressively toward the perpetrator
than their control counterparts, especially those with low self‐esteem.
Other studies have used self‐affirmation with minorit y groups at school. Students of these minorities often
experience threats to their identit y because of negative stereotypes connected with their group. This stereo‐
type threat has negative consequences on their school achievement. Latino‐American (Sherman et al., 2013) and
African‐American stu dents (Cohen, Garcia, Apfel, & Master, 200 6) who followed a regular self‐af firmation assign‐
ment achieved higher grades than their control counterpar ts did. In this perspe ctive, authors believe self‐affirma‐
tion to be an ef fective strategy against identity threat in childhood and adolescence. Effects of self‐affirmation
lasted after 3 years in the Latino group (Sherman et al., 2013).
On the opposite, but complementary side, of self‐affirmation, there is the derogation of the perpetrators.
This strategy consists of diminishing the value of a personal threat (Murray, Rose, Bellavia, Holmes, & Kusche,
2002), and it is a spontaneous reaction used by people to defend themselves from negative feedbacks. For
example, studies showed that when participants scored poorly on a task, they subsequently rated the task
as less satisf ying and accurate (Eagly, 1967; Korman, 1968). Moreover, when participants received negative
feedback from an external evaluator, they thought s/he knew them less well than par ticipants receiving pos‐
itive feedback (Shrauger & Lund, 1975). Bourgeois and Leary (2001) extended these results to the context of
exclusion, by showing that rejected participant s derogated the other person more than the included counter‐
parts did. However, derogation can be thought as an impulsive reaction to protect the person's self‐esteem.
In ef fect, one study has shown that the use of derogation was predicted by increased cortisol levels after a
rejection episode (Ford & Collins, 2010). This neuroendocrine component is part of the physiological stress
response of the body and has been connected to the perception of a social threat to the self (Dickerson &
In the context of children and preadolescents, it might be investigated if the spontaneous use of this strategy
helps people to maintain a positive mood and need satisfaction after social exclusion, thus preserving their devel‐
oping personalit y from external threats.
3.2.2 | Reminders of social bonds or surrogates
Reminders of social bonds help people to focus on positive social relationships (i.e., a friend or a family member). In
adults, the use of a social bond strategy after being excluded, made them behave less aggressively (Twenge et al.,
2007) and maintain a good level of need satisfaction (McConnell, Brown, Shoda, Stayton, & Martin, 2011). Social
surrogates consist of thinking of an imagined relationship either with a person (i.e., a famous figure) or with a more
abstract entit y (i.e., nature, God). These figures rely on the same mechanisms of social bonds, although they gen‐
erally have weaker efficacy in recovering from exclusion (Twenge et al., 2007), likely as they are only substituting
for real human interactions.
Despite the interest in the adult research, to our knowledge, these strategies have not been tested in the
context of social exclusion with children and adolescents. However, studies have shown the impor tance of social
bonds for mental and physical health in the developing populations. In fact, social bonds were negatively related
to low self‐control (McConnell et al., 2011) and negatively related to delinquency (Longshore, Chang, Hsieh, &
Messina, 2004). Moreover, poor school connectedness has been linked to more anxiety and depression symptoms
and substance use (Li, 200 4). Finally, studies on imaginar y friends also showed that these entities are created to
satisfy a need for companionship and acceptances in lonely children (Gleason, Sebanc, & Hartup, 2000; Taylor,
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3.2.3 | Control and power
This strateg y helps to restore the sense of control people feel to have on events, which has been threatened by so‐
cial exclusion. In effect, a meta‐analysis has shown that the more excluded people feel they have lost their control,
the more they prefer to behave aggressively (Gerber & Wheeler, 2009). For the adult population, strategies aiming
at restoring the sense of control or power, as priming powerful positions (Kuehn, Chen, & Gordon, 2015; Schoel,
Eck, & Greifeneder, 2014), using money as a symbol of high status (Lelieveld, Moor, Crone, Karremans, & Beest,
2013; Zhou, Vohs, & Baumeister, 20 09) or even thinking of being physically invulnerable (Huang, Ackerman, &
Bargh, 2013) have shown positive effects in recovering from exclusion.
Social power in the form of social dominance or popularity may be prominent for children and adolescents as
well. In effect, at least since elementary school, children form status hierarchies in class, and high popularit y has
been linked to more aggression (Cillessen & Mayeux, 20 04; Vaillancourt & Hymel, 20 06). Moreover, maintaining
a dominant st atus might be one reason for peer victimization (see, Smart, Richman, & Leary, 2009). In the context
of exclusion, a recent study (Tobia et al., 2017) showed that only unpopular children suffered a reduction of cog‐
nitive performance after ostracism. Moreover, there might be a plausible relation between power and exclusion,
with children in a powerless situation being more excluded. Finally, since the loss of control seems to produce
aggressive behavior, children who find themselves in a powerless situation may use more aggression, thus being
rejected. Overall, acting on the sense of power and control may help to break this vicious circle, thus lessening the
negative impact of social exclusion.
4 | DISCUSSION
The goal of this article was twofold: provide an overview of the studies experimentally testing the consequences
of exclusion on children and adolescents and present a new perspective on how to cope with its negative effects.
In fact, exclusion has proven to be a pervasive and yet hur tful form of interaction, which may provoke even long‐
lasting maladjustment during the development (Abrams et al., 2011; Ladd, 2006). In the first part, we reviewed
experimental evidence indicating exclusion to affect various areas of young people's life with consequences on
psychological well‐being, cognition, brain, health, and behavior. In the present review, we did not take into account
the role of the context of the exclusionary event. This limitation mirrors the state of art of the research in social
exclusion. Only recently studies have started to acknowledge that the situation matters as children take several
variables into account (e.g., setting of the event—school vs. peers; criteria of the exclusion—socioeconomic status,
geographical location, religion) when reasoning on social exclusion (Alsamih & Tenenbaum, 2018; Tenenbaum,
Leman, Aznar, Duthie, & Killen, 2018). To the best of our knowledge, these studies, however, have mostly focused
on the social acceptability (from an external perspective) rather than on the emotional and health consequences
of being excluded. Future research is thus needed to empirically establish the role of the social context in the tar‐
get's consequences and the strategies to help the victim to overcome these negative effects. These studies would
contribute to bridge eventual gap between lab and the real‐life exclusion.
In the second part, moving from a reflection started elsewhere in adult populations (Timeo et al., 2019), we
considered different approaches for children and adolescents to cope with episodes of social exclusion. Although
well‐est ablished lines of research have for long examined programs to help prevent or diminish experiences of
exclusion for children and adolescents (Bierman et al., 1987; Mikami et al., 2005), to date, ver y few studies have
investigated strategies to help them cope with the negative effects derived from it. Examining the current litera‐
ture, we became aware of the noticeable lack of studies regarding this topic. To find some starting point for future
investigations, we relied mostly on strategies investigated in adult research on social exclusion (with sporadic hints
to developmental studies). Among these strategies, we identified some underlying common thread that unified
coping mechanisms based on their approach to the negative situation. On one side, there are Changing perspective
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strategies that help victims to change their perspective toward exclusion. This approach helps people to focus
more on the specific episode and to acknowledge the fact that ever y person can experience daily both positive
and negative interactions. By taking this perspective, people perceive the situation as less threatening, and this
lowers the intensity of the experience of social exclusion. Such cognitive emotion regulation may, in turn, favor
a response to functionally deal with this situation. For example, depending on the gravity and importance of the
relationship, a person may decide to let go or to face the perpetrator ( Tang & Richardson, 2013). Anyway, these
strategies diminish the probabilities of overreactions. The Changing perspective strategies include looking at the
episode from a broader perspective (detached perspective), framing it in a more positive way (positive reappraisal),
focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment (mindfulness), or turning at tention from the
negative event to something more positive (refocusing).
On the other side, there are Strategies to restore the threatened needs that aim at reinforcing the self, to whom
value has been threatened by social exclusion. In this perspective, the victim concentrates on his/her inner feel‐
ings and reactions toward the threat received, rather than analyzing the external situation. These strategies in‐
clude focusing on one's positive aspects or lessen those of the perpetrator (self‐affirmation and derogation of the
perpetrators), remembering real or imagined positive social relationship (social bonds and social surrogates), and
increase one's power or control.
For children and adolescents, the use of these strategies can have both positive and negative sides. The
Strategies to restore the threatened needs can help children and adolescents to preserve a positive image of them‐
selves, then maintain good self‐esteem and self‐efficacy in the social domain, which are fundamental ingredients
for developing psychological well‐being. Moreover, these strategies (e.g., thinking of a friend or counting down
some positive characteristics of oneself) do not seem to require much cognitive effor t to be used, which makes
them easily suitable for the implementation at school and in other educational contexts. Most importantly, as
shown by Abrams (2011), social exclusion threatens self‐esteem to a greater extent in children than adolescents
or adu lt s. In this pe rs pe cti ve , se lf‐af fi rmation or so cial bon ds cou ld be par ti cu la rly helpf ul str ateg ie s for children to
cope with social exclusion. Moreover, as they are specifically meant to repair the needs threatened by exclusion,
they can be especially effective in addressing the effects of this negative social than other events (i.e., social bonds
specifically fulfill the need to belong, which is particularly threatened when ignored or rejected).
However, these strategies could foster the never‐ending competition for receiving others’ attention and being
popular among peers. Specifically, some of these strategies may even produce more hostility in the relationship,
as in the case of derogation of the perpetrator and search for power.
The Changing perspective strategies can be used to cool down these antagonist relationships by letting go some of
the negativity recei ved . These can be con sidered a higher form of cop ing as they promote metacognition and self‐re‐
flec tion instead of compensating reactions. However, these str ategies might be harder to implement, as they require
the use of high‐order cognitive abilities, which may be not fully organized in the developing mind. In addition, our
explorator y study, testing the efficacy of a detached perspective, has provided some evidence of problematic use of
this strategy with a group of preadolescents (12 years old), with less than a half of the participants being able to use
this strategy. Although the Changing perspective strategies may produce stronger and long‐lasting beneficial effects,
their implementation appears more dif ficult than the other group of strategies. In this perspective, we can speculate
that only older adolescents, who have developed higher level metacognitive abilities, could apply these strategies.
However, these types of strategies can also be simplified so as to teach children and preadolescents population
how to apply them in everyday situations. For example, White and collaborators (2015) attached a sticker with the
first name of the child on the computer where s/he was performing the task. In this way, they succeeded in making
young children (4‐ and 6 year olds) to refer to themselves in the third person, a well‐known self‐distancing strategy.
In this sense, practitioners can ground the basic principles of a psychological strategy into more comprehensible
tasks. However, we think these strategies require time and training to be employed, so they cannot serve as an ex‐
temporary solution to an unexpected situation. Children, who are completely not used to adopting such strategies
in arousing situations, would find it hard to adopt them when excluded. Moreover, this cluster of strategy appears
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to be useful with a broader range of negative situations. In our view, Changing perspective strategies may be seen as
a psychological toolkit to overcome adversities and they could become a generalized st yle of response to negative
events. In this perspective, as social exclusion is considered one of the most hurtful social threats, we suggest these
domain general strategies to be effective in reducing its negative effects.
A separate mention should be made for the refocusing strategy that seems to work without much effort. In
effect, even though an adult can help children to shift attention, children often and spontaneously use distraction
(i.e., play or go to another place). However, as for strategies that do not need cognitive restructuring, its benefits
may be limited. Moreover, it might be appropriate only when exclusion is sporadic than prolonged and comes from
distant than close people.
All the strategies presented in the review are meant to be used by the victim of exclusion as a way of coping
with these unpleasant, but frequent situations. However, especially when talking about children or adolescents,
it is important to note that adult people around them (i.e., parents, educators, teachers) play a key role in guiding
emotional regulation and relational adjustment. External social support seems to bring some relief after exclusion
has occurred. For example, re‐inclusion in a Cyberball game has shown to have ameliorative ef fect s (Edmond &
Keefe, 2015; Zwolinski, 2014). Moreover, having a friendly conversation with an experimenter after an exclusion
episode has proven to reduce aggression (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004). However, re‐inclusion does not seem
protective against subsequent episodes of exclusion (Zwolinski, 2014), and its positive effects do not seem to
last long (Edmond & Keefe, 2015). Another strategy that external supporters may use is to validate the emotional
experience of the victim. This technique consists of openly listening to what the other person is feeling and to
communicate comprehension to his/her sensations and thoughts. Emotion validation has shown promising result s
in the treatment of chronic physical pain (Killen, Rutland, & Jampol, 2009). Because social exclusion is often unno‐
ticed, it may be difficult for the person even to express his/her distress. This strategy may help the victim to feel
accepted without judgment.
Overall, also other people can use strategies to help the victim to recover quickly from social exclusion. These
strategies however always require the action of another person to be pursued. Therefore, they may provoke a
condition of dependence for the victim. This could be useful as it helps children to learn how to cope with negative
events by themselves. However, in the long term, it could diminish children's sense of control and power.
5 | CONCLUSION
Social exclusion is a pervasive and detrimental phenomenon that may have costly effects on the development of
positive relationships and personality, especially during childhood and adolescence (Abrams et al., 2011; Pedersen
et al., 2007). Although the effects of exclusion are well documented, its importance is still undervalued in the
school context. Moreover, although some research has focused on the negative effects of exclusion in the devel‐
opmental population, only few research has been carried out on the coping strategies that may contrast its nega‐
tive outcomes. In this ar ticle, we revised coping strategies that have shown some beneficial effects with adult s,
children, or adolescents in the field of social exclusion or closer domains. We urge future studies to bridge this gap
in the literature, giving new insight for both researchers and practitioners.
This work was supported by a grant from CARITRO (2583/16).
Paolo Riva https://orcid.org/0000‐0002‐9855‐994X
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How to cite this article: Timeo S, Riva P, Paladino MP. Learning to cope with everyday instances of social
exclusion: A review of emotional and cognitive strategies for children and adolescent s. J Appl Behav Res.
2019;e12173. http s ://doi.org/10.1111/ja br.12173