Out of the group, out of control? The brain responds to social exclusion with changes in cognitive control


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Abstract

The effects of social exclusion are far-reaching, both on an emotional and behavioral level. The present study investigates whether social exclusion also directly influences basic cognitive functions, specifically the ability to exert cognitive control. Participants were either excluded or included while playing an online game. To test whether exclusion altered cognitive control, we measured the electrophysiological responses to a Go/No Go task. In this task participants had to withhold a response (No Go) on a small number of trials while the predominant tendency was to make an overt (Go) response. Compared to Go trials the event-related potential evoked by No Go trials elicited an increased N2, reflecting the detection of the response conflict, followed by an increased P3, reflecting the inhibition of the predominant response. The N2 effect was larger for participants who had experienced exclusion, while the P3 effect was smaller. This indicates that exclusion leads to an increased ability to detect response conflicts, while at the same time exclusion decreases the neural processes that underlie the inhibition of unwanted behavior.

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