Study co-author Richard Ryan, professor of clinical and social psychology at the University of Rochester in New York, and Nicole Legate, a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester, found having study subjects comply with instructions to exclude another person led most people to feel shame and guilt, along with a diminished sense of autonomy.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found inflicting social pain makes people feel less connected to others. Those who were excluded felt more anger, the study said.
"We are social animals at heart," Legate said in a statement. "We typically are empathetic and avoid harming others unless we feel threatened."
The findings point to the hidden price of going along with demands to exclude individuals based on social stigmas, such as being gay and the harm to both parties in cases of social bullying, the researchers said.
These new experiments build on the work of Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram and others who demonstrated people were disturbingly willing to inflict pain on others when instructed to by an authority, Ryan said.