* Kipling D. Williams
* Janice R. Kelly

April 13, 2009

Study: Don't be in the dark about effects of leaving others out of the loop

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Workplace ostracism hurts employees' feelings, and the impact on job performance can hurt the company's bottom line, according to new research from Purdue University.

"Most of us have been given the silent treatment on occasion, but being out of the loop, especially if it frequently happens at work, may have more negative consequences than we thought," says Kipling D. Williams, a professor of psychological sciences who studies ostracism. "Even when people are included and acknowledged to some extent in a group setting, there is still some damage accruing when they experience periods of being in the dark. And, because this happens more frequently, its effects may be more serious than the cold shoulder."

These out-of-the-loop experiences can occur when co-workers exclude someone from a hallway conversation after a meeting or a human resources manager meets with people from other departments but someone feels left out of a discussion, says Janice R. Kelly, a professor of psychological sciences. Kelly, who studies small-group decision making, said other examples of partial ostracism involve not being told about an important decision, revised deadlines, office gossip or office holiday traditions.

Williams's and Kelly's research findings are published in March's Group Process and Intergroup Relations. Purdue doctoral students Eric E. Jones and Adrienne R. Carter-Sowell also are study co-authors.

In the first study, 75 participants visited with their group members in a setting where information was freely exchanged. Later, some participants were excluded from related information during a group task. Compared to those in the loop, the out-of-the-loop participants experienced incompetency, anger and sadness. A second study with 145 participants reaffirmed the results of the first study, and it also showed that people felt incompetent and treated unfairly whether they were intentionally or unintentionally excluded.

"Out-of-the-loop experiences are interesting to study because of their prevalence and subtlety in relationships and social groups, as well as their potential negative implications for groups and organizations," Kelly says. "The psychological consequences of partial ostracism could affect performance outcomes on morale, productivity and interpersonal functioning."

For example, when people feel uninformed they may not perceive themselves as an equal group member, which could have other harmful effects for individuals and the group. Partial ostracism could lead to dislike and feelings of inequity that can lower group cohesion.

"Because of this research, I am more sensitive about being inclusive," Williams says. "Colleagues need to be more aware about including everyone from a group in discussions or updating those who missed a conversation or piece of information."

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by the Department of Psychological Sciences.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Sources: Kipling D. Williams, 765-494-0845,

Janice R. Kelly, 765-494-9474,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in a copy of the "'I'm Out of the Loop': Ostracism Through Information Exclusion" article can contact Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,


'I'm Out of the Loop': Ostracism Through Information Exclusion

Eric E. Jones, Adrienne R. Carter-Sowell, Janice R. Kelly and Kipling D. Williams

'Out-of-the-loop' experiences, or situations where people perceive being uninformed of information mutually known by others, pervades people's lives. Two experiments examined the psychological impact of this form of partial ostracism. In Experiment 1, compared to in-the-loop participants, out-of-the-loop participants experienced a variety of deleterious effects (e.g. reduced satisfaction levels of fundamental needs), even without significant costs for being uniformed. In Experiment 2, out-of-the-loop participants were led to believe that their lack of information resulted from their group members' decisions or chance. Unlike those who experience complete ostracism, participants typically reported negative psychological consequences only when group members were responsible for the exclusion decision. Information exclusion also affected factors related to group dynamics (e.g. liking and trust of group members), which may ultimately harm group functioning. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the social and psychological importance of being in the information loop in group settings.


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