Chronic social exclusion & the resignation stage
This is an original manuscript published by Wiley at the British Journal of Social Psychology on
the 4th of August 2020, available online at:
Surrendering to Social Emptiness: Chronic social exclusion longitudinally predicts
resignation in asylum-seekers
Chronic social exclusion & the resignation stage
Marco Marinucci* & Paolo Riva
University of Milano-Bicocca
*Corresponding author information: Marco Marinucci, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department
of Psychology, Piazza Ateneo Nuovo, 1, 20126 – Milano (Italy). e-mail:
Chronic social exclusion; resignation stage; asylum seekers; longitudinal study; cross-lagged panel
Data availability statement:
The dataset supporting the findings and the analytic codes are publicly available at this anonymized link in
the OSF repository: https://osf.io/82z7u/?view_only=ff88e2e4c1134c0184bf0b0c98bfb519.
This work was supported by a Grant from the Italian non-profit organization “Fondazione Roberto
Franceschi ONLUS” (grant number: 2017-NAZ-0176).
The current knowledge of the long-term consequences of social exclusion mostly relies on theoretical
assumptions. Williams (2009) hypothesized that chronic ostracism drives individuals into a stage of
resignation (depression, alienation, unworthiness, helplessness). We focused on asylum-seekers
(N=112) as a social group at risk of experiencing prolonged instances of exclusion. Applying a three-
wave longitudinal design with a three-month interval between each wave, we sought to advance the
knowledge of the temporal development of chronic social exclusion. Cross-lagged panel analyses
showed that social exclusion influenced the development of feelings of resignation in the long term,
from baseline to six months and between three and six months. In the same time-frame, the perception
of social exclusion became stable and chronic. These findings provide empirical evidence that chronic
exclusion predicts resignation and shed light on the temporal development of the detrimental impact
that pervasive exclusion can have on people belonging to marginalized social groups.
Surrendering to Social Emptiness:
Chronic social exclusion longitudinally predicts resignation in asylum-seekers
Imagine that, on a hot day in August, while riding your bike along your usual route by the
seaside, you see a man lying on a mattress under a bridge and wrapped in a dirty blanket. After a few
days, you still see him there, so you decide to approach him and ask how he feels. You understand
that he can only speak Urdu, and you realize that he is a migrant who ended up somehow in that
remote countryside area. When you come back in December for the Winter break, you see that he is
still there; he has already spent four months in that remote area, isolated, unable to talk with anybody,
and continuously exposed to the indifference of the locals who rarely even pass by. This story, which
was witnessed by one of the authors (MM), speaks about a real-life persistent condition of social
exclusion, broadly defined as the “experience of being kept apart from others physically (e.g., social
isolation) or emotionally (e.g., being ignored or told that someone is not wanted)” (Riva & Eck, 2016,
Social exclusion has severe consequences for individuals’ health. Several studies showed that
social exclusion increases negative emotions, lowers self-esteem (Gerber & Wheeler, 2009), impairs
psychological well-being (Lieberman, 2013), is associated with infectious diseases, cardiovascular
and sleep problems (Aldridge et al., 2018; Cacioppo et al., 2002), and increases the risk of suicide
and mortality (Schinka et al., 2011; Rubin, 2017). The broad definition of social exclusion
encompasses a variety of adverse events in which people experience detachment and devaluation
from others. These events have been categorized into two categories of rejection- and ostracism-
based experiences (Riva & Eck, 2016). In episodes of rejection, individuals receive explicit negative
attention from others, suggesting that they are not wanted; when ostracized, people are ignored, and
they receive no attention from others (Wesselmann et al., 2016). Rejection can occur via
dehumanizing language (Haslam, 2006), stigmatization and discrimination (Richman et al., 2016),
and microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007). In contrast, ostracism can be detected when someone is
forgotten (King & Geise, 2011), when others avoid eye contact (Nezlek et al., 2012), when someone
is excluded from important information (Jones et al., 2009), when others speak in unknown foreign
languages (Dotan-Eliaz et al., 2009), and in cases where one is a target of the silent treatment
(Williams et al., 1998). Despite the many faces that social exclusion can take, rejection- and
ostracism-based instances of exclusion evoke similar negative emotions and threats in their victims
(Wesselman et al., 2019), highlighting the harmful consequences that social exclusion implies
regardless of whether it comes in extreme or subtle forms.
Approximately a decade ago, the publication of the Temporal Need-Threat Model of
Ostracism (Williams, 2009) pushed forward the conceptualization of the psychological consequences
of social exclusion.
The Temporal Need-Threat Model
Williams (2009) focused on the temporal development of individuals’ reactions to ostracism,
proposing a theoretical model that identified three sequential stages of responses. The first assumption
is that individuals are innately over-sensitive to detecting ostracism, given that it threatens humans’
survival, endangering group membership and access to group resources. Individuals quickly detect
being the target of ostracism, and in the first reflexive stage, they experience social pain and negative
emotions, signaling the severe threat they are exposed to. Specifically, ostracism threatens the need
to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), the need to maintain positive self-esteem (Steele, 1988), the
need to perceive a sense of control over the environment (Burger, 1992), and the need to feel
recognized as meaningfully existing (Greenberg et al., 1986). After the painful reflexive experience,
individuals enter the reflective stage when they attempt to cope with the ostracism and recover the
satisfaction of their needs. People can react either with prosocial behaviors (e.g., social
compliance)—evoking the urge to reconnect with others (Maner et al., 2007)—or with antisocial
behaviors (e.g., aggression)—prompting the desire to exert control over the environment. Ultimately,
if all of the coping strategies fail to end ostracism, individuals enter the resignation stage, where
ostracized individuals become resigned to their condition of persistent ostracism. The resources
necessary to fortify the threatened needs are depleted, belongingness evolves into alienation, self-
esteem into depression, control into learned helplessness, and the need for meaningful existence into
unworthiness (Williams, 2009).
Due to the ethical unfeasibility of inducing a persistent condition of social exclusion in a
controlled experimental procedure, the resignation stage has received the least empirical support
(Wesselmann & Williams, 2017).
Chronic social exclusion
The Temporal Need-Threat Model (Williams, 2009) is, therefore, the main theoretical
framework that allows the prediction of the temporal development of individuals’ responses to social
exclusion. As noted, Williams (2009) proposed the psychological withdrawal of the resignation stage
as the inescapable consequence of prolonged ostracism when people lose the expectation of and hope
for social acceptance and passively surrender to their marginalized condition. However, in focusing
on behavioral responses rather than psychological responses, another influential theoretical model
seems to align with this prediction. Indeed, Richman and Leary (2009) identified social withdrawal
as a unique behavior provoked by the perception of chronicity and the pervasiveness of rejection,
framing it as the only response that can prevent the experience of further pain deriving from
persistently occurring exclusion (Vangelisti et al., 2005). Resignation and withdrawal seem to be the
only possible outcomes of chronic social exclusion according to the most influential theoretical
models available. However, there are still two main issues concerning the study of chronic social
exclusion: the absence of a clear time reference and the ambiguity between the perception and
experience of social exclusion.
Lack of a clear time reference
The lack of a clear definition of the chronicity of social exclusion has contributed to hindering
the development of this literature. The abovementioned theoretical models do not provide a clear
temporal framework defining how long exclusion must last to display its implications. Indeed,
chronicity referring to social stressors has been framed without any temporal delimitation. Zhang and
colleagues (2017, p. 2) defined chronic social adversity as “repeatedly, continuously, or
accumulatively” occurring. Williams (2009, p. 302) considered “persistent” ostracism, and Richman
and Leary (2009, p. 370) framed the chronicity of social rejection as occurring “over a prolonged
period of time”. In contrast, disciplines from medical and clinical sciences more accurately defined
the temporal extension of chronic diseases. For example, chronic fatigue lasts for at least six months
(Wessely et al., 1996; Surawy et al., 1995), whereas chronic pain is defined as physical pain lasting
for at least three months (Merskey et al., 1979; Blyth et al., 2001).
Drawing on the pain overlap theory (Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004; see also Riva et al.,
2014), Riva and colleagues (2017) applied the temporal framework of chronic physical pain to
chronic social pain, defining it as an experience of social exclusion lasting at least three months. The
authors presented quasi-experimental evidence showing that people reporting a three-month
experience of social exclusion presented higher resignation than control groups (Riva et al., 2017).
Beside it, to our knowledge, no study has explored the temporal onset of the chronicity of social
exclusion or the resignation stage.
Subjective vs. objective chronic social exclusion
Other issues concern the disentanglement between subjective and objective chronic social
exclusion and the overcoming of the inferential limits of cross-sectional methodologies. The
reciprocal intertwinement between negative evaluations about oneself and one’s social world and a
depressed mood, for instance, (e.g., Jankowski et al., 2018; Drevers & Raichle, 1998), do not allow
drawing inferences about the directionality of cross-sectional associations between self-reported
chronic exclusion and resignation. Thus, researchers need to apply methodologies pointing at causal
inference (e.g., longitudinal study) that can distinguish between the effect that perceived chronic
exclusion can have on the long-term resignation outcomes from the reciprocal influence that
resignation can play in generating long-term feelings of being rejected and ostracized. This is the
case, for example, of the longitudinal study by Martin and colleagues (2018) investigating the short-
and long-term effects of rejection from university sorority recruitment. The authors showed that the
negative implications for participants’ well-being caused by an acute episode of rejection could last
for three months.
Currently, we see only two feasible ways to deal with the issues mentioned above. The first
way implies the use of objective measures of chronic social exclusion, such as peer-reported indices
(e.g., Asher & Coie, 1990). Another way consists of sampling individuals belonging to marginalized
social groups that experience objective (definable a priori) real-life conditions of social exclusion
from society at large. Examples of these groups include homeless people (Hulme, 2000), prisoners
(Wesselmann et al., 2014), and immigrants (Marinucci & Riva, 2020).
Asylum seekers as a case study
Asylum-seekers can be considered a marginalized social group at risk of experiencing
persisting instances of social exclusion. As pointed out by Ager and Strang (2008), the social
exclusion of asylum-seeking immigrants begins at a foundational level, given the limited social, legal,
and citizenship rights they are given, which prevents them from fully participating in social and
cultural life (UN, 2016)—for example, asylum-seekers in Italy have limited access to the educational
system (Decreto Legislativo n.140, 2005).
Asylum seekers also face several losses that imply the disruption of social connections and
relatedness with close connections (Bennett et al., 1997; Yakushko et al., 2008; Saldaña, 1992). They
can feel left out by people speaking a foreign language (Dotan-Eliaz et al., 2009; McDonald, 1995),
be excluded by community activity (Munton & Foster, 1990), and experience rejection alongside the
difficulty of building new social relationships (Ammons et al., 1982). Finally, due to their ethnic and
racial belonging, asylum seekers can face the daily hostility and discrimination of the majority,
conveyed via societal discrimination (e.g., hardly being given a job; Ager & Strang, 2008),
dehumanizing language (Esses et al., 2013), and microaggressions or direct aggression (Sue et al.,
2007; Fijalkowski, 1993).
For all of these reasons, in the current geopolitical situation in Europe, asylum-seekers can be
considered objectively marginalized from the broader society, and research considering the
perspective of asylum-seekers can offer opportunities to deepen the knowledge on the consequences
of chronic social exclusion and its psychological mechanisms.
The present study
The present study tested the causal assertion that the chronicity of perceived social exclusion
leads to a resignation stage (Williams, 2009). We focused on a sample of asylum-seekers as a social
group at risk of experiencing prolonged instances of ostracism and rejection (for similar reasoning,
see Aydin et al., 2010). Applying a three-wave longitudinal design with a three-month interval
between each wave, we conducted a series of cross-lagged panel models to 1) test the causal
prediction that perceived chronic social exclusion leads to resignation over time (controlling for the
potential reciprocal effect that resignation could exert on the later perception of social exclusion) and
2) study the time onset of the resignation stage
Participants and procedure
We recruited 112 asylum-seeking male immigrants in three different hosting centers (CAS –
Extraordinary Reception Centers) in Northern Italy. CAS were private corporations identified by the
regional Prefectures as suitable to host asylum-seekers waiting for their asylum claims to be
processed, thus supplying hosting capacity to the overwhelmed National Reception System. Indeed,
during 2017, CAS accounted for 78% of the national hosting capacity. The centers in which the data
collection took place mainly consisted of large facilities collectively hosting from 30 to 100 asylum-
seekers, even though CAS could also consist of networks of small apartments hosting 3-5 persons.
Officially, CAS were supposed to host immigrants temporarily, covering the six months expected for
The present study, longitudinally testing the chronic exclusion-resignation causal assumption,
importantly builds on our previous research preliminary investigating the exclusion-resignation link
at a cross-sectional level using the first wave of the present dataset (see Study 1, blind citation).
the courts to evaluate the asylum claims. However, due to the overwhelming immigration emergency,
the length of stay in CAS centers lasted up to two years (Villa, 2018). Within these centers,
immigrants could freely interact with each other, with the social workers leading the facilities, and
with the local community, even though they were subject to mobility restrictions (e.g., the obligation
to return to the center by night). The services provided by the CAS aimed at meeting asylum-seekers’
physical basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, and medical assistance), extending to more articulated
integration programs depending on the corporations’ resources (e.g., legal assistance, job placement,
and educational programs).
Following the approval of the University Ethical Committee, data were collected using a
paper-and-pencil self-reported questionnaire during scheduled group meetings within the hosting
centers. Based on the official languages of participants’ countries of origin, the questionnaires were
available in English, French, and Italian (bilingual native speakers reviewed the translations).
Moreover, cultural-linguistic mediators supported the data collection providing, when needed,
explanation of the questionnaire considering cultural differences and linguistic meanings. Participants
could choose to complete the questionnaire in their home country official language (i.e., English or
French), or in the language in which they mostly felt proficient (e.g., Italian for the long-term asylum-
seekers whose home country language was not available). Participants received a payment of 15
Euros at the end of data collection for their commitment to the research.
At the first wave of data collection, participants were 29.9 years old (SD=6.5) and they had
undergone 10.2 years of full-time education (SD=4.1) in their countries of origin. Most of the
participants (86.9%) came from English and French speaking Western-African Countries (in order:
Nigeria, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Benin,
Liberia, and Burkina Faso), 9% from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the remaining 4.1% from other
African countries (Egypt and Somalia). Participants had been staying in Italy for 15.1 months
(SD=8.2) and 87.5% had reached Italy crossing the Mediterranean Sea (5.4% by land border, 7.1%
other or unknown). The great majority of them were single (75,9%), 15.2% were married (10.7% of
them living apart from their wives), and 7.2% were widowed, divorced, or separated. Overall, 94.6%
of the participants had their asylum claim pending, whereas 5.4% (n=6) already held a status of
international protection. Each of the waves of data collection occurred approximately after a three-
months interval (lagWave1-2=100.66 days, SD=9.79, lagWave2-3=102.16 days, SD=6.75). In all, of the
112 participants at Wave 1, 89 (79.46%) participated at Wave 2, and 70 (62.5%) at Wave 3.
Predictor: Social Exclusion. The self-reported index of social exclusion was based on the
literature categorizing the various forms of daily life social exclusion into rejection- and ostracism-
based experiences (Riva & Eck, 2016; Wesselmann & Williams, 2017). The index focused on the
two main categories of social exclusion and was computed averaging two items assessing the daily
feelings of being rejected and ignored (“I feel rejected,” “I feel ignored”). The index was measured
on a 5-point Likert scale, with higher score indicating higher feelings of exclusion (range = 1-5).
Outcome: Resignation. As in previous studies (Riva et al., 2017; blind citation), the index of
resignation stage was computed averaging a series of items that tapped into alienation, depression,
unworthiness, and helplessness (see the Appendix for the complete list of items). Alienation was
measured with eight items from the Social Connectedness Scale (Lee & Robbins, 1995). To measure
depression, we included eleven items from the Symptom Checklist-90 (Revised) – Depression
subscale (Derogatis & Unger, 2010). Feelings of unworthiness were measured with five items from
the Rosemberg Self-Esteem scale (Rosenberg, 1965). Lastly, helplessness was measured with four
items from the Beck Hopelessness Scale (Beck et al., 1974). Participants were instructed to answer
the items thinking about how they felt or thought in the previous three months on a 5-point response
scale (range=1-5). Table 1 summarizes the descriptive statistics and correlations between the
Sociodemographic information. Participants responded to sociodemographic questions
asking their gender, age, years of full-time education, nationality, religion, marital status, length of
their stay in Italy and how they reached Italy, and the status of their asylum claim.
We conducted a series of cross-lagged panel models (CLPMs) within a SEM approach that
allowed us to compare the different models using RStudio (RStudio Team, 2016) and the package
“lavaan” (Rosseel, 2012). Missing data were handled using the full-information maximum likelihood
estimation that provides a more reliable estimation than traditional approaches (Schafer & Graham,
2002). No data were excluded from the analyses. Because of non-normality, we used robust “Huber-
White” standard error (Freedman, 2006). CLPM is a widely used statistical technique that can “lend
support to a causal claim” because of the temporal order of the considered variables. (Selig & Little,
2012, p. 271). Employing CLPMs, we tested the effect from previous perceived social exclusion to
future resignation, while considering the reverse path from the previous level of resignation to future
perceptions of chronic exclusion, the autoregressive paths, and covariation between exclusion and
resignation (Cole & Maxwell, 2003). The autoregressive paths and both the forward and reciprocal
causation cross-lagged paths were specified between Wave1 and Wave2/Wave3 and between Wave2
and Wave3 (Finkel, 1995; Reitz et al., 2016; Reitz et al., 2015). This full specification of the model
allowed us to comprehensively study the development of the relationship between exclusion and
resignation, focusing both on the short- and long-term cross-lagged effects (Hawkley et al., 2010; see
also Konradt & Eckardt, 2016). We started performing a) a baseline model specifying the
autoregressive and correlation paths, and we proceeded comparing the baseline model with larger
model additionally estimating b) the forward causation paths (i.e., perceived exclusion predicts future
resignation), c) the reverse causation paths (i.e., resignation predicts future perceived exclusion), and
d) the reciprocal causation paths. After the identification of the best fitting model, we proceeded to
test progressively nested models with equality constrains to identify the best fitting and most
parsimonious model. We assessed the model fit comparing the RMSEA (acceptable below 0.08), the
CFI (acceptable above 0.90), the SRMR (acceptable below 0.07), and the chi-square difference test
(Hu & Bentler, 1999; Marsh et al., 2005). Finally, to ensure an adequate sample size – categorized as
medium by the Kline’s (2005) N ≥ 100 guideline –, we managed to present a final statistical model
respecting the rule-of-thumb setting the minimum ratio observations/parameters to 5 (Bentler &
Chou, 1987; Kline, 2011). Open data and analysis code can be found at this link
Table 2 shows the goodness of fit of the CLPMs tested and the model comparison. Overall,
we observed that the forward (b) and the reverse causation (c) models showed a better fit than the
baseline model (a), and the just-identified reciprocal causation model (d) had the best fit. These results
indicated that the perception of chronic social exclusion and resignation reciprocally influenced each
other over time. From model (d), we tested additional models progressively adding equality
constraints to identify the most parsimonious and best-fitting model. Results led to the identification
of model (i) that showed a good fit according to all the indicators. In model (i), non-significant paths
were constrained to zero, and the resignation autoregressive paths, as well as the exclusion-causation
paths, were constrained to be equal (Figure 1).
The final model highlighted a complex relationship between perceived chronic exclusion and
the resignation stage, whose reciprocal influence over time varied across the two time-lags. The two
constructs also differed in their stationarity. As highlighted in the model comparison (f vs. e), the
resignation stage was stable in both the time-lags.
Differently, social exclusion became stable in the long-run. Exclusion at six months (Wave 3)
was predicted by exclusion at the first measurement (Wave 1) and after three months (Wave 2),
whereas exclusion at the first measurement (Wave 1) did not influence the perception of exclusion at
three months (Wave 2).
These results suggest that the most appropriate time frame to consider chronic experiences of
social exclusion is six months. According to our data, six months seems to be the time interval
required to recurring episodes of ostracism and rejection to be perceived as chronic and stable over
time. Considering that exclusion at Wave 1 did not predict exclusion at Wave 2, a time-frame of three
months did not seem to be sufficiently long for individuals to perceive the occurring social exclusion
as stable – hence chronic – over time.
This pattern of results is similar to the cross-lagged paths highlighting the relation between
early exclusion on later resignation. Controlling for autoregressive paths, exclusion at the first
measurement (Wave 1) and after three months (Wave 2) predicted resignation at six months (Wave
3), whereas resignation at three months (Wave 2) was not influenced by previous exclusion (Wave
These results can indicate that the development of the resignation stage originated from
persistent social exclusion occurs in a six-months interval. Accordingly, the non-significant path from
baseline exclusion to three-months resignation would indicate that an initial time-lag of three months
may be insufficient for the negative consequences of social exclusion to stably develop. Instead,
social exclusion would influence the development of the resignation stage in six months, when the
final resignation level (Wave 3) would depend on the exclusion perceived during the previous three
and six months.
Regarding the reverse causation path (from previous resignation to future perception of
exclusion), results showed that only the baseline levels of resignation influenced in the short-term (in
the three months between Wave 1 and Wave 2) the perception of social exclusion, whereas the
perception of social exclusion at six months was predicted neither by baseline nor by three-months
preceding resignation. These results can indicate that at three months baseline resignation can still
influence the perception of social exclusion; differently, when at six months the perception of social
exclusion has become chronic, it mainly derives from previous perceptions of exclusion whereas the
influence of early resignation becomes no more detectable.
To sum up, results indicated a reciprocal predictive influence between perceived social
exclusion and resignation, but, whereas the reverse effect of resignation on future perception of
exclusion occurred in the first three-month lag – as a short-term cross-lagged effect –, the impact of
exclusion on future resignation as well as the perception of chronicity of the exclusion developed in
six months as a long-term effect.
The present research investigated the long-term consequences of chronic social exclusion.
Whereas the existing literature identifies psychological resignation as the sole outcome of chronic
social exclusion (Williams, 2009), it has not provided insight concerning the time frame development
of the associations between chronic exclusion and resignation outcomes. With the present study, we
aimed to fill this gap by conducting a three-way longitudinal study testing whether persistent social
exclusion leads to resignation. Most importantly, we took into account the timeframe required for this
process to develop. We focused on a sample of asylum-seekers, considering the high chances of
individuals belonging to this social group experiencing chronic exclusion.
Our results supported Williams’ (2009) theoretical assumption that people experiencing
persistent forms of social exclusion enter the resignation stage, characterized by feelings of alienation,
depression, unworthiness, and helplessness. Moreover, we observed that this process requires a six-
month interval to develop, as do persistent episodes of social exclusion to be perceived as chronic
and stable over time. Given their longitudinal design and the specific population they draw on, these
findings inform the current knowledge about the long-term consequences of interpersonal exclusion
from different standpoints.
First, the present study provided the first longitudinal empirical causal evidence that chronic
exclusion leads to resignation. Indeed, previous studies have only spoken about the long-lasting sting
of acute rejection episodes (e.g., Martin et al., 2018). Although, as recommended by Selig and Little
(2012), arguments favoring causal relationships based on cross-lagged panel analyses should be
drawn with care, the present findings are strengthened and supported by their conjunction with a)
converging and independent theoretical predictions from the main psychosocial models on
interpersonal devaluation—pointing at psychological and behavioral withdrawal as the direct
outcome of chronic exclusion (Williams, 2009; Richman & Leary, 2009)—b) qualitative (Zadro,
2004), cross-sectional (Marinucci & Riva, 2020), and quasi-experimental (Riva et al., 2017)
preliminary evidence of the exclusion-resignation link, and c) converging results coming from
conceptually related scientific fields. Relatedly, Van Zalk and Smith (2019), surveying a group of
long-term homeless people, found that perceived ostracism was associated with Williams’ (2009)
need-threat. Additionally, the sociometric literature on school-aged children and adolescents showed
that chronic peer rejection longitudinally predicted depressive symptoms, social withdrawal and
anxiety in later stages of life (e.g., Prinstein & Aikins, 2004; Ollendick et al., 1992). Additionally,
the literature from discrimination highlighted the negative long-term implications for psychological
health and well-being that these instances of relational devaluation can have in different contexts
(Schmitt et al., 2014; Pascoe & Richman, 2009), such as gender-based workplace discrimination
(Pavalko et al., 2003), the stigma experiences of people with mental illness (Ilic et al., 2013), ethnic-
based discrimination in school (Benner & Kim, 2009), and personal everyday discrimination in an
urban context (Schulz et al., 2006). Moreover, in an experimental study, Goodwin and colleagues
(2010) found that attributing ostracism to racism impeded the recovery of basic needs. Thus, although
the present findings do not allow us to make a conclusive claim of causal evidence, their alignment
with theoretical models, preliminary evidence, and convergent results from related fields support the
argument in favor of a causal exclusion-resignation link.
Second, the present findings identified six months as the interval that persistent episodes of
social exclusion require to be perceived as chronic and to influence the onset of the resignation stage.
To our knowledge, this is the first study that has tried to investigate the temporal development of the
chronicity of social exclusion, setting the criterion defining how long instances of social exclusion
must last to be perceived as chronic and stable and to display their negative implications on
individuals’ psychological well-being as six months. However, these results must be considered with
care, and further studies are needed to confirm or challenge the timeframe we identified. Indeed, the
six-month criterion we proposed as the temporal development of the resignation stage and the
perception of chronicity of social exclusion may be specific for the life condition and experience of
asylum-seeking immigrants, and future research should test whether the causal exclusion-resignation
link and its temporal development can be replicated in the general population as well as in other
marginalized social groups. Among others, stateless people – those who are not recognized as citizens
by any state – can be a particularly vulnerable group whose inherent condition of social exclusion
could greatly aggravate the risk to enter the resignation stage. The stateless condition puts people
under the severe psychological threat of not having a legal identity, which adds to the heightened risk
of being victims of human rights violations (Riley et al., 2017; Lewa, 2009). This unsafe condition
has been shown to aggravate the psychological impact of daily stressors, like being rejected or
disrespected (Riley et al., 2017). Based on these premises, future research could focus on the
resignation stage as a negative health outcome potentially harming stateless people, also looking at
how being stateless could influence the onset of resignation. Future research should account for other
unconsidered factors that could reduce or extend the developmental time-frame of the resignation
stage. Indeed, individual and personality differences can modulate the onset of the resignation stage.
For example, existing post-traumatic symptomatology and other mental disorders – commonly
observed among asylum-seekers and refugees (Fazel et al., 2005) – could heighten the perception and
sensitivity to social exclusion (Jobst et al., 2015; Jankowski et al., 2018), potentially shortening the
developmental interval of the resignation stage in vulnerable asylum-seekers. Oppositely, factors
such as resilient personality traits, as well as adaptive coping strategies, protective socio-demographic
conditions, and supportive relations could delay the development of the resignation stage, and perhaps
even prevent it (Waldeck et al., 2015; Lavie-Ajayi & Slonim-Nevo, 2017).
Third, these findings provide information about the psychological consequences induced by
chronic social exclusion in asylum seekers, a group that is the target of marginalization and relational
devaluation phenomena (e.g., Ager & Strang, 2008). In doing so, we extended the investigation of
individuals’ reactions to social exclusion to a non-WEIRD population (“Western, educated,
industrialized, rich and democratic”; Henrich et al., 2010a, p. 29), and this allowed us not only to
further validate Williams’ (2009) hypothesized model on the WEIRD social groups the model drew
on but also to consider it as a heuristic theoretical map that describes the processes that all humans
undergo when facing chronic exclusion, pointing at early, preliminary evidence of a large-scale
generalization. Nevertheless, the present findings provided evidence of the exclusion-resignation
causal link only on a specific subgroup of marginalized population: male, young adult, asylum-
seeking immigrants mainly coming from Western-Africa. Although this socio-demographic
background seems in line with the average asylum-seekers entering Italy – whose prototype is a single
man younger than 25 coming from Western-Africa by the Mediterranean Sea (Cittalia et al., 2019) –
, future research focusing on people with different socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., women,
non-immigrants, different ages and home countries) is needed for a better investigation of the
Moreover, the investigation of the consequences of chronic interpersonal exclusion in a
chronically marginalized social group allowed us to bring together the interpersonal and intergroup
levels of analysis. Although we focused on the individual-level psychological consequences derived
from an unmet need to belong and feel connected to others (i.e., social exclusion; Baumeister &
Leary, 2005; Leary, 2001), the fact that we tried to answer this research question in group-level
marginalized individuals acknowledged the fact that such interpersonal exclusions occur not occur in
a “social vacuum” (Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002, p. 191) but rather in a context ruled by intergroup
dynamics. Thus, the perception of social exclusion that asylum-seeking participants self-reported in
this study could become more meaningful and interpretable in light of the objective condition of
social exclusion and inability to fully participate in the social life that they experience daily due to
numerous factors, such as a lack of full and equal social rights and citizenship as well as cultural
barriers (Ager & Strang, 2008), relocation stressors (Bennett et al., 1997), and the subtle or explicit
devaluation of the majority group (Sue et al., 2007; Esses et al., 2013). If the intersection of the
interpersonal and intergroup focuses allows contextualizing asylum-seekers’ experience of social
exclusion, it also brings further complexity to the understanding of this societal issue. Our data
showed that, despite their marginalized societal condition, participants’ average perception of
interpersonal exclusion was fairly low (see table 1), which could be accounted for by two main
reasons. First, a series of intervening factors can play a role in buffering asylum-seekers’ perception
of social exclusion in their current daily life. For example, while they could be victims of racist
aggression – whether in its extreme or subtle forms (i.e., microaggression; Sue et al., 2007) – and
discrimination from the local communities (Hersch, 2011; Pereira et al., 2010), at the same time, they
can be also hosted in welcoming environments, encounter social workers that care about them and
seek to promote their well-being as well as their civil and social integration (Nash et al., 2006). While
struggling with post-migration stressors (e.g., James et al., 2019), immigrants can develop supporting
relations with locals counteracting their perceived exclusion and its negative consequences (e.g.,
Marinucci & Riva, 2020). Thus, interpersonal factors could buffer asylum-seekers’ against their
condition of societal marginalization, leading to a lowered perception of interpersonal exclusion.
Future research should pay attention to intervening factors at the interpersonal level that can interact
with marginalized populations’ societal exclusion, aggravating or softening their perceived social
exclusion. Second, it is possible that the low scores on perceived social exclusion are linked with the
measure of social exclusion we adopted. The self-reported measure of social exclusion that we
adopted could not be sensitive enough to account for the complexity of the experience of pervasive
social exclusion asylum-seekers face. As detailed in the introduction, asylum-seekers can experience
social exclusion for a wide range of reasons (e.g., the disruption of existing connections, linguistic
exclusion, societal discrimination), and a two-item self-reported index might fail to capture the
overall experience of immigrants’ exclusion. As a general consideration, the assessment of daily and
persistent social exclusion is to date still an open methodological issue. Indeed, to our knowledge,
the investigation of pervasive social exclusion in real-life ecological settings exclusively relies on
self-reported measures, and, if a validate scale exists for measuring pervasive ostracism in adolescents
and the general population (see Gilman et al., 2013), future research should develop an appropriate
measure of pervasive rejection and ostracism suitable for marginalized populations.
Highlighting the severe negative repercussions that social exclusion can have on asylum-
seekers, the present study calls on policymakers and social workers to implement interventions
counteracting the implications of asylum-seekers’ chronic exclusion. Programs such as “The
Friendship Bench” (Chibanda et al., 2015)—aimed at improving individuals’ well-being by
promoting community belongingness via counselling sessions delivered by lay health workers in
public benches—could be applied to identify those marginalized individuals most vulnerable to
persistent exclusion, preventing its negative consequences by fostering belongingness to local
The present research calls for future studies to deepen the knowledge of the long-term
implications of social exclusion and to overcome the limits of the present study. Researchers should
replicate the presented exclusion-resignation causal link in another sample of immigrants, in the
general population, or in a sample of other marginalized social groups, such as homeless people,
prisoners, or stateless people. Researchers can consider the development of more detailed self-report
or other reported measures of chronic social exclusion to increase accuracy in measuring this
construct. Moreover, future studies should investigate other potential negative outcomes of persistent
social exclusion, considering detrimental behavioral responses, such as behavioral withdrawal,
substance use, or aggressive behaviors. In doing so, future research could consider the usage of more
sophisticated methodologies that allow a detailed assessment of behavioral reactions to social
exclusion in concomitance with the occurrence of episodes of exclusion (e.g., the Ecological
Momentary Assessment). With this type of procedures, researchers could also be able to understand
whether prosocial, aggressive, or reclusive behaviors are more likely to occur after social exclusion
as coping strategies to fortify the threatened fundamental needs. Future studies could also try to
identify the individual, social, and situational variables that can moderate the time-frame of the
development of the resignation stage, focusing on both protective factors counteracting the
development of the resignation stage – such as positive social connections with the native majority
(Marinucci & Riva, 2020) –, and risk factors accelerating its onset. Lastly, future studies need to
acknowledge potential undetected cultural differences that may have affected the presented results
(Henrich et al., 2010b).
In this study focusing on a marginalized social group, we sought to advance the current
knowledge of the temporal development of chronic social exclusion. Considering a sample of asylum
seekers, we provided longitudinal evidence that the perception of the chronicity of social exclusion
and its evolution into the resignation stage develop in six months. These results, providing causal
evidence that chronic exclusion relegates people into a condition of helpless surrender to social
devaluation, call for future research aimed at further exploring the development of the repercussions
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Table 1. Mean (standard deviation) and correlations of the study variables.
r = .75*
α = .82
r = .57*
α = .87
r = .73*
α = .88
Note. *p<.01. α = Cronbach’s alpha; r = Pearson’s r. Pearson’s correlation coefficients.
Table 2. Goodness of fit of the tested models and comparisons
a vs. b
a vs. c
a vs. d
b vs. d
c vs. d
e vs. d
f vs. e
g vs. f
h vs. f
i vs. f
Note. *** p < .001; ** p < .01; * p < .05. Letters in bold indicate the better fitting models. 1 Just-identified model. 2
Non-significant paths constrained to zero. 3 Resignation autoregressive paths constrained to be equal. 4 Exclusion
autoregressive paths constrained to be equal. 5 Correlation (Wave1) and residuals covariance (Wave2/Wave3)
constrained to be equal. 6 Exclusion forwards causation paths constrained to be equal.
Figure 1. Standardized coefficients (standard errors) of the cross-lagged panel model (i) analyzing
the longitudinal relationship between perceived chronic exclusion and resignation stage
Note. *** p < .001; ** p < .01; * p < .05. Coefficients with identical superscripts indicate equality
constraints. Non-significant paths constrained to zero are not depicted.