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Claimed Inclusion: Not Quite as Good as You May Have Hoped

October 26, 2012

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / Free Digital

By Wendy de Waal-Andrews and Ilja van Beest, Tilburg University

Teenagers often try to be part of groups they admire by dressing in certain ways, by listening to certain music, or even by engaging in damaging behaviors like smoking, drinking or drug abuse. Later in life, people may work equally hard to be included, whether it is at social gatherings, by colleagues at work, or by other moms at the local playground. In other words, our own behavior is often of fundamental importance for attaining inclusion. This doesn’t mean that others don’t play an important role in ensuring we are included. They do: when people invite us to a birthday they include us; when we are not welcome they exclude us. However, sometimes our own behavior is more important for ensuring inclusion, and other times other people’s behavior is more important. The outcome may be the same in both cases – you end up included or alone – but the route is very different. The question then is, does this matter?

We investigated this question in two studies recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (De Waal-Andrews & Van Beest, 2012). If people are prepared to go to great lengths to be included, we asked, does that mean that people also enjoy inclusion more when they “claim” it for themselves? Or will they enjoy it less, because inclusion that is “granted” by others is somehow valued more? We predicted the latter.

Satisfying our need to belong may require having both ongoing interactions with others and relationships marked by concern and caring (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We reasoned that claimed and granted inclusion are equally viable ways of securing ongoing interactions. After all, how one attains inclusion does not affect the frequency with which one interacts. However, when someone is granted inclusion they may perceive this as a sign that they are appreciated, possibly even cared about, whereas it seems difficult to attribute such feelings to interaction partners when inclusion is claimed for oneself. Exclusion, on the other hand, we predicted would be equally painful if someone failed to claim it or if it was not granted. Here we built on the idea that human beings are social animals who react immediately to signs of exclusion. Given the potential threat of exclusion to survival such a “reflexive” (Williams, 2009) initial reaction makes sense: how you ended up excluded does not matter at this stage. All that matters is that you are alone, and therefore potentially in danger.

We tested these predictions by letting students either play a virtual game of ball toss called “cyberball” (Willliams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000), or a new version of this game we called “claimball”. In both games, participants are led to believe they are playing a virtual ballgame with two other players, depicted as schematic figures on their screen (see Figure 1). However, the rules of the games differ in an important way. In cyberball players throw the ball to another player by clicking their figure on the screen, and they are told that the other players do the same. Therefore, participants’ inclusion or exclusion in the game allegedly results from other players’ willingness to throw them the ball. In claimball, in contrast, players are told they can “claim” the ball by being the first to click on the figure on the screen of the player who has the ball. In other words, inclusion or exclusion in the game allegedly results from a player’s own success at claiming the ball. In reality the students were not playing with other people, but their computer determined the number of ball-tosses they received. Students randomly assigned to the inclusion condition received the ball about as often as other players. Students assigned to the exclusion condition only received a couple of throws.

In our first study, students (n = 136) were either included or excluded in one of the two games and then reported the extent to which their fundamental needs were satisfied during the game. As predicted, we found that people’s immediate reactions to exclusion did not differ between the two games, but their reactions to inclusion did: people felt more satisfied when inclusion was granted than when they claimed it for themselves. In a second study, we followed the same procedure. However, this time the students (n = 113) also reported how much they thought the other players liked them and considered them to be a warm person. Moreover, they were then asked to divide a sum of money between themselves and each of the other players. Again people’s immediate reactions to exclusion did not differ across the two games, and again, people were more satisfied following granted inclusion than following claimed inclusion. However, this time we also found that people gave less money to interaction partners than when they claimed inclusion than when inclusion was granted. Moreover, additional analyses revealed that these differences occurred because people who were granted inclusion thought the other players liked them more than people who claimed inclusion for themselves, and therefore felt more satisfied and behaved more generously.

In short, the broad implication of our results is that the lack of warmth associated with claimed inclusion reduces its benefits. Sadly, the more people crave belonging the more they may be motivated to try and claim it for themselves. Paradoxically, the resulting inclusion may never quite be as satisfying as inclusion that is effortlessly received.

Author Information

Wendy de Waal-Andrews is a lecturer in social psychology at Tilburg University. Her research examines social outcomes (e.g. inclusion, status, and power) in groups and organizations, and the self as a motivational source. More information about her work is available at:

Ilja van Beest is a professor of social psychology at Tilburg University. His research program examines coalition formation, social exclusion, negotiation, emotions, and symptom attribution. More information about his work can be found at:


Baumeister, R.F., & Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

De Waal-Andrews, W., & Van Beest, I., (2012). When you don’t quite get what you want: psychological and interpersonal consequences of claiming inclusion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1367- 1377.

Williams, K. D. (2009). Ostracism: A temporal need-threat model. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 41, pp. 275-314). Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K. T., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748-762.

Image Credit:

Image (ID: 10032050) courtesy of  Danilo Rizzuti /

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