Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session 01: Ostracism, Social Exclusion, and other Threats to the Self
Thursday, 07/Sep/2017:
9:00am - 10:00am

Session Chair: Sonja Utz
Location: Room CIV 160

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Testing the TEBOTS model in self-threatening situations: The role of narratives in the face of mortality and ostracism

Diana Rieger, Frank M. Schneider

University of Mannheim, Germany

Stories or narratives have been found to influence many aspects of human communication, such as attitudes and behaviors as well as entertainment and sense making. Recent approaches have therefore attempted to theoretically embed the role of narratives in human‘s identity work. The TEBOTS model (Temporarily expanding the boundaries of the self; Slater et al., 2014) outlines that narratives provide their audiences with the potential to leave their own boundaries behind and experience something broader than their own limited set of daily routines.

Accordingly, the model suggests that narratives are sought after more frequently in challenging situations, as for instance in moments of low self-control (Johnson et al., 2015) or low self-affirmation (Johnson et al., 2016). Further, consuming narratives in challenging situations intensified the corresponding entertainment experience and served as coping instrument (Rieger et al., 2015). Transportation into the narrative was found to be an important mediator for an increased entertainment experience (e.g., Johnson et al., 2015).

The present study aimed at testing whether narratives can also serve as a coping instrument in self-threatening situations. The general process model of threat and defense (Jonas et al., 2014) distinguishes different types of self-threats but proposes that humans universally react to them with defense reactions. Within this realm, the TEBOTS model predicts an intensified entertainment experience in response to a narrative after having experienced a self-threatening situation. We further questioned whether transportation is needed for the narrative to unfold an effect in self-threatened individuals and therefore manipulated the level of transportation.

Accordingly, we tested the role of reading a narrative—a short story by Tolstoy (‘The Three Questions’)—after experiencing an existential or a relational self-threat. The study followed a 3(Threat: Mortality Salience vs. Ostracism vs. Control Condition) x 2(Transportation: High vs. Low) between-subject experimental design (N = 188).

The results provide evidence that individuals enjoyed and appreciated the narrative more in the high transportation condition than individuals in the low transportation condition. Similarly, these entertainment experiences were intensified when people experienced an existential threat (mortality salience condition). In turn, a relational threat (ostracism condition) only increased the enjoyment of the narrative.

The present findings suggest that the TEBOTS model can be applied to different challenging phases in daily life, including self-threatening situations. Moreover, narratives trigger coping processes that can help to deal with such self-threats. The findings of this study will be discussed with regard to their implications for media use as a remedy for existentially and relationally self-threatening situations.

IM ostracism — The seen-function as need threat for personally close and distant chat partners alike

Sabine Reich1, Elisa Schlink2, Peter Vorderer2

1Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien, Germany; 2Universität Mannheim

WhatsApp’s total user number surpassed the one billion mark in February 2016 (WhatsAppInc., 2016) and is a widely used mobile instant messaging (IM) application in Germany. The so called seen-function gives detailed feedback whether the chat message has been delivered and seen by the addressee. Together with the possibility to see when someone was last online, instant messengers enable users to monitor other people’s communication behavior. When not receiving an answer in mobile chat communication, we assume individuals experience this quickly as ostracism (Mai et al., 2015). Ostracism threatens four basic human needs: belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control. It decreases positive affect and increases negative affect (Williams, 2009). Ostracism can be triggered by minimal signs of exclusion in our social environment and it is documented to have a universal and powerful psychological effect on individuals (Williams et al., 2000). In mediated communication it has been widely explored in chat environments and on Facebook (e.g., Williams et al., 2000; Tobin et al., 2015, Vorderer & Schneider, 2017). Like offline ostracism, we assume that not receiving an answer in an IM conversations first thwarts the self-esteem of the users. As laid out in sociometer theory, self-esteem changes detect environmental threats such as ostracism (Leary & Downs, 1995). So activated, need threats to belongingness as well as meaningful existence and control of the situation will be recognized more easily. According existing research, mood declines as a result (Wesselmann et al., 2012).

In need-to-belong theorizing, Baumeister and Leary (1995) vaguely suggest that the need satisfaction is attained to a different degree from family, friends, or strangers. The effects of being ignored are further depending on individual factors, such as the trait self-esteem of the users. Thus, the following study explores how the seen-function and the social relationship with the addressee on the IM WhatsApp influence the experience of not receiving an answer to a message, while controlling for self-esteem.

To test our underlying assumptions, a 2 (Seen-function On/Off) x 2 (Good Friend/Acquaintance) online experiment with 141 participants was conducted. A vignette was used to remind participants of a WhatsApp chat situation where they did not receive an answer. Controlling for trait self-esteem, Pillai’s trace V = .14, F(5,128) = 4.23; p < .05, , we found a multivariate effect of the seen-function on the dependent variables V = .11, F(5,128) = 3.03; p < .05, . The univariate tests suggest that individuals who can see that their message has been read by their chat partner feel more threatened in their needs of belonging, self-esteem, and meaningful existence (but not control) as well as more negatively influenced in their mood than individuals who cannot see whether their message has been read. Further, the results indicate that the relationship with the chat partner has no impact on the effects of the seen-function. Yet, constant and multiple IM conversations come at the risk of being ignored, possibly left with thwarted needs and mood. Limitations are discussed.

Can Facebook use mitigate the effects of a self-threat? Results from a social snacking experiment

Sonja Utz, Ruoyun Lin

Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Germany

Research on social snacking (Gardner, Pickett, & Knowles, 2005) claims that people can recover from need threats also by small little acts such as looking at the pictures of loved ones (“social snacks”). We argue that Facebook use could be considered as social snacking and might help people recover from self-threats. In the domain of belongingness needs, it has recently been shown that Facebook use can mitigate the effects of social exclusion; even just presenting the Facebook logo helped ostracized people to feel better (Knausenberger, Hellmann, & Echterhoff, 2015; Knowles, Haycock, & Shaikh, 2015).

In this experiment, we aimed to extend this research to other self-threats. The study had a 2 (self-threat: yes vs. no) x 3 (medium: Facebook, Comic, website) – between subjects design. The self-threat manipulation by Vohs and Heatherton (2001) was adapted. Participants (n = 155) received an easy or difficult version of the remote associates test. Participants who worked on the easy condition were subsequently told that they had performed very well, whereas participants who worked on the difficult version were told that they performed poorly. After the test, participants either browsed Facebook, a comic website or a university website for five minutes. Because Facebook has a strong social component, but contains also many entertaining posts, we compared Facebook with an entertaining, but not very social condition (comic) and a neither very social nor entertaining condition (website). Dependent measures were negative and positive affect and state self-esteem (performance subscale), assessed two times: before and after media use. We expected that Facebook use results in a larger restoration of mood and self-esteem than the website condition, and that these effects are stronger in the self-threat condition. We explored whether entertaining content (comic condition) is enough for the restoration of mood and self-esteem.

The manipulation checks showed that people in the self-threat condition reported higher negative and less positive mood than people in the no self-threat condition; however, they did not differ in state self-esteem. For negative mood, instead of the expected three-way interaction, the two-way interactions between feedback and time and between medium and time were significant. The decrease in negative mood was larger in the self-threat condition. More important, Facebook use resulted in a larger decrease of negative mood than website and comic browsing. For positive mood, a similar picture emerged, but the interaction between medium and time was only marginally significant. There were no effects on state self-esteem.

The results thus indicate that Facebook use reduces negative mood more than browsing a comic site or a university website, independent of a prior mood decrease. The results on self-esteem are currently inconclusive. It could be that the manipulation was not strong enough or that self-esteem is more stable than mood and can therefore not so easily be influenced by five minutes of media use. Data for a follow-up study that answers this question will be collected in the summer semester.

Can Facebook heal social exclusion? The influence of Facebook usage on the experience of stress and well-being after an ostracizing event

Nicole Krämer, German Neubaum, Meike Gabriel, Kristin Geerdes, Saskia Heimbach, Vanessa Oertgen, Linda Radwon

University Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Social network sites (SNS) like Facebook have become an important part of individuals’ daily life over the last years. It seems therefore highly relevant to analyze the relationship between Facebook use and well-being. While there are already numerous studies on the question whether the usage of SNS has beneficial or detrimental effects on well-being, results so far are largely inconsistent and suffer from the fact that most studies are not able to uncover causal mechanisms due to their correlational nature.

One conceivable way in which social networking sites usage might influence well-being is via fostering the experience of being part of a group. Therefore, the current study analyzes whether social networking site usage can contribute to the feeling of relatedness by experimentally inducing a state of ostracism and testing whether using Facebook can serve as a compensator for exclusion.

In a 2x3 between-subjects lab experiment (plus control-group), 158 participants were induced with cognitive or social stress, and subsequently had either the opportunity to use Facebook or not. Stress was either elicited by math tasks (cognitive stress), by the ostracism manipulation “Cyberball” or by an online ostracism paradigm that mimics exclusion on social networking sites (both social stress). The additional control group experienced a non-stressing event in which they were included in an activity. Subjective well-being and perceived stress were measured after the stress manipulation and again after the period in which participants either used Facebook or did nothing. Additionally, the level of the hormone cortisol was measured at the beginning of the experiment, after the stress induction and after the Facebook usage/waiting time (considering the latency of the hormone). Furthermore, the specific Facebook behavior was observed and coded (consumption, participation and production).

Manipulation checks show that on a subjective level, stress manipulations were successful. Results indicate that the type of stress had a significant effect on the time spent with consumption on Facebook (b=-73.650, SE=21.89, t(40)=-3.364, p=.002) and with participation (b=44.600, SE=17.26, t(40)=2.585, p=.014). In the social stress condition participants spent less time with consumption and more time with participation than the cognitively stressed participants. Regarding well-being, results demonstrate that the momentary well-being differs significantly between participants who used Facebook and those who waited instead (F(1,124)=4.418, p=.038, η²=.03), suggesting that participants in the Facebook condition have a higher level of momentary well-being (M=7.14, SD=1.22) in contrast to those who did not use Facebook (M=6.64, SD=1.64). Additional regression analyses indicate that both frequency of consumption and frequency of participation predict positive affect. Cortisol values unfortunately showed that none of the stressors was able to raise the hormone level sufficiently to be seen as relevant stressor.

In sum, results suggest that social stress fosters participation rather than consumption behavior on Facebook and that using Facebook can indeed increase people´s momentary experience of well-being.

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