Media Portrayal of Ostracism and Shunning in Young Sheldon

Curator's Note

            In the clip from Young Sheldon, a series that portrays the childhood of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon’s mother, Mary, asserts to his twin sister, Missy, that she intends to go to church despite the news breaking of her oldest son, Georgie, getting an older woman pregnant out of wedlock. Sheldon is pressured into coming as well. However, when they get to church, they soon find that nobody in the congregation is willing to interact or even sit with them. Though Sheldon complains about sitting in a new spot, Mary tries to press on through the sermon until no one joins her hands in prayer. At this point, she tells the kids that she is done, and they head out the back doors. However, Sheldon comes back into the chapel and reproves the congregation for their hypocrisy for not loving his family despite the sermon’s subject has been on the topic of love. He then criticizes their pronunciation of Nebuchadnezzar before being dragged out by his family.

            This scene illustrates ostracism and shunning well in that there is a violation of community norms (sex outside of marriage and resulting pregnancy) that is then presumably attributed to a failure on the part of the family. The family then becomes, in a sense, “untouchable” despite sermons on loving one another. Mary’s first reaction to this ostracism is reflective of Williams’ (2007) “tend and befriend.” She puts her best foot forward by bringing her kids to church and fully participating with the congregation. However, as she sees that her family is being actively ignored despite her best efforts, her reaction turns to that of “flight” when she tells her kids that it’s time to go, and they make their way out of the building. Lastly, we see Sheldon come to the defense of his mother by taking the “fight'' approach, reproaching the congregation, and criticizing their pronunciation as a way to put the group down and defend his family.

            This clip was interesting because it showed three of the four major reactions to ostracism in a couple of minutes’ time, with “freeze” being the only reaction not portrayed. It also showed diversity in such reactions by showing how one person’s reaction can change as ostracism grows stronger or more apparent, as well as demonstrating that different people can have different reactions to the practice. The reasons for these reactions are also different: Mary wants to be a faithful religious woman, and Sheldon wants to defend his mother and family. Overall, this clip demonstrates that ostracism or shunning can have an intergroup dynamic that can quickly evolve based on current circumstances.



Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425-452.

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