Do preschoolers track and evaluate social includers and excluders?

Amanda M. Woodward, Sarah J. Knoll, Lindsay A. Horen, Jonathan S. Beier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social exclusion is harmful and leads to negative consequences across the lifespan. Based on studies primarily with adults, psychologists have characterized a highly sensitive “ostracism detection system” that acts quickly and automatically to detect exclusion and mitigate its effects. However, research with children has not fully explored whether a system with similar characteristics is operational in early childhood, and prior work probing children's responses to exclusion has produced mixed findings. We investigated 4- to 6-year-old children's abilities to negatively evaluate those who have excluded them as well as to use these experiences for prosocial gossip. Children engaged one pair of play partners in an inclusive game and engaged another pair in an exclusive game. Nearly one third (n = 28 of 96) did not accurately recall who had excluded them. Yet those who did recall their game experiences evaluated excluders more negatively than includers, and they were less likely to recommend excluders as play partners to others. These findings indicate that not all children sensitively track their excluders’ identities—but those who do so will evaluate excluders negatively. More work is needed to understand developments in how and when children recognize their own exclusion and whether the underlying processes should be viewed as homologous to adults’ ostracism detection system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105677
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Ostracism
  • Play preferences
  • Social evaluation
  • Social exclusion

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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