U of R study weighs the costs of being in the “in crowd.”

We all put up with it in high school. And even if we don’t like to admit it and the game is slightly less obvious, many of us have experienced the peer pressure to exclude people from our social circles. If you felt bad about that, but did it anyway, you’re not alone.

And new research from the University of Rochester shows that going along with the group in these cases really does have a negative impact on you. Much beyond the hurt inflicted on the one ostracized from the group, the group itself pays a price:

Consistent with earlier research on ostracism, the study found that being shunned, even by faceless strangers in a computer game, was upsetting and lowered participant’s mood. “Although there are no visible scars, ostracism has been shown to activate the same neural pathways as physical pain,” says Ryan. But complying with instructions to exclude others was equally disheartening, the data shows, albeit for different reasons. This study suggests that the psychological costs of rejecting others is linked primarily to the thwarting of autonomy and relatedness.

So, based on their research, this social ostracism pain is two-pronged. The first is the natural impulse of human animals to be connected to one another, and the second is the lack of autonomy that happens when we bend our will to meet social demands.

This research has important implications for a variety of social situations, but in particular, it bears on bullying. Because a bully never bullies in private. They never bully just the victim. As many of us have experienced in our past, this study now proves: the bully also beats on his “friends” who join in or do nothing.