Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Motivation and hazing

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Motivation and Hazing:

What motivates hazing and how can we manage the issue?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This book chapter aims to:

  • Introduce hazing and illustrate why it is an issue that needs attention
  • Explore the three macro theories (solidarity, dominance and commitment) which explain the motivation behind hazing
  • Describe two main theories (severity-attraction hypothesis and social identity theory) which explain the link between motivating processes and hazing.
  • Explain how to manage the issue of hazing

Introduction to hazing[edit | edit source]

Definition[edit | edit source]

Hazing activities: paddling

Hazing is a term used to describe a process in which an individual (or “pledge” as they are known) is coerced into committing an act, or forced to endure acts committed against them, in order to gain acceptance and membership within a particular organization or group (Campo, Poulos & Sipple, 2005; Finkel, 2002). In its simplest form hazing refers to an initiation ritual designed to ensure the new member has ‘earned their place’ within the group and often involves activities that are dangerous, humiliating, degrading and/or potentially illegal (Campo et al., 2005). Examples of some frequently used hazing activities include: social isolation, sleep deprivation, drinking contests, kidnapping, transportation and abandonment, public humiliation, sexual assault and many types of physical assault such as paddling, burning, branding, beating, etc.

History[edit | edit source]

Hazing rituals, know as Pennalism at the time, can be traced back to ancient and medieval times, throughout Greece, North Africa and Western Europe, however it was only during the 1600’s that the tradition became a requirement within schools (Finkel, 2002). During this time it was believed that underclassmen were not civilized and needed to be ‘groomed’ in order to meet the standards of the school and society. The increase of reports pertaining to injury and death from hazing practices during this time later led to the dissolution of this requirement (Leslie, Taff & Mulvihill, 1985). During the 1700’s and the 1800’s the issue of hazing re-emerged in a ritual called ‘fagging’, at term used to describe the act of forcing younger students (or group members) to act as servants for the senior members (Nuwer, 2000). In 1905 a fatal hazing incident was recorded in a newspaper for the first time when exposure from a hazing activity lead to pneumonia and death in a 13-year old boy (Nuwer, 2000). By 1933 an agreement was signed by many educators to eliminate harmful hazing practices within their institutions (Nuwer, 2001). However since then the problem has not been eradicated but has only continued to occur ‘underground’ away from the eyes of educators and law enforcers.

Issues[edit | edit source]

Hazing can lead to death

Hazing activities can lead to physical and psychological health issues, as well as emotional turbulence, within the pledge (Campo et al., 2005). The previously mentioned examples of hazing activities make up only a small percentage of hazing activities that are practiced, yet they alone can lead to severe and traumatic injuries including: heat stroke, third degree burns, suffocation, aspiration, irreversible intracranial damage and death (Finkel, 2002). In addition the illegal nature of many hazing activities often extends to people outside of the group and damage to public/private property and the abuse of animals is also commonplace (Campo et al., 2005). Hazing also occurs over a wide range of social groups, including: schools, fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, military groups, professional sport organizations, street gangs, cult-like groups and even workplaces (Hollmann, 2002; Finkel, 2002). This widespread nature of hazing ensures that everyone has the potential to become a victim.

Prevalence[edit | edit source]

The issues associated with hazing become further confounded when considering the increase of hazing related injuries and deaths being documented. From 1838-1969 35 people died as a result of hazing practices, this number skyrocketed to 42 reported deaths during the year of 2002 alone (Campo et al., 2005; Hollmann, 2002). The rate of growth averages out to 5.5 deaths per year during the 1980’s to over 18 deaths per year during the 2000’s (Hollmann, 2002). In addition to being detrimental to the pledge the resulting effects of hazing can also be a drain on medical services. A study conducted by Finkel (2002) reported that of the people who identified themselves as being involved in hazing activities 44.64% of them required medical attention due to their involvement. However, similar to cases of domestic abuse, the true nature of injuries relating to hazing may be covered up to due shame or fear (Finkel, 2002). This suggests that the true number of individuals requiring medical services due to hazing related activities may be much higher than statistically indicated (Finkel, 2002).

The role of motivation[edit | edit source]

There are many negative effects associated with hazing, and when taking into account case examples like the one above, it can be difficult to understand why such a thing occurs. Why would anyone want to inflict such physical and psychological scars on another person, particularly one the will call ‘brother’? Why would anyone willingly put them selves in harms way like that? Understanding the why of hazing is important to understanding the ways in which we can prevent and eliminate hazing.

The three macro theories of hazing[edit | edit source]

Hazing as a tool for group solidarity[edit | edit source]

Does hazing promote group solidarity?

Many of the groups that support hazing believe that it is an effective means of building group unity and creating group cohesion (Campo et al., 2005) and many theories and research articles promote this belief. For example, based on the theories of cognitive dissonance and effort justification, Aronson and Mills (1959) hypothesised that if extreme effort is required in order to join a group, then the new member will also increase their liking of the group (this topic is explored in greater detail later on). In addition Keating, Pomerantz, Pommer, Ritt, Miller and McCormick (2005) suggest that hazing leads to dependence (similar to Stockholm Syndrome), which increases the amount that the new members like and admire their abusers (senior members). In effect these theories suggest hazing can increase intragroup valuation, leading to a closer-knit community, solidarity among group members and greater group cohesion (Cimino, 2011).

A limitation to hazing as a tool for group solidarity[edit | edit source]

Evidence suggests hazing does NOT promote group cohesion

A Study conducted by Van Raalte, Cornelius, Linder & Brewer (2007) aimed to examine the argument that hazing promotes greater team cohesion. Participants consisted of 167 athletes, gathered from a range of different colleges across the United States. The participants completed a likert-scale questionnaire designed to assess four major components related to group cohesion. These are:

  • Group integration task: e.g. achievements and poor performance alike are taken responsibility for by the entire team.
  • Group integration social: e.g. team members like to hang out together even during days off.
  • Attraction to group task: e.g. the team works in a style I enjoy
  • Attraction to group social: e.g. my teammates are some of my closest friends (Van Raalte et al., 2007).

In addition the participants were required to complete another questionnaire designed to evaluate the initiation activities within their team. They were presented with 24 activities relating to acceptable behaviors, questionable behaviors, alcohol-related behaviors and unacceptable behaviors (Van Raalte et al., 2007). They were then asked to report if they had: done or seen those behaviors, heard about or suspected those behaviors, or, had not done, seen or heard about those behaviors, as well as report if those behaviors were: appropriate, inappropriate, or a requirement/tradition (Van Raalte et al., 2007). The results of the study show that task cohesiveness was negatively related to hazing activities, however social cohesiveness was positively related to appropriate team building exercises (Van Raalte et al., 2007). These results suggest that hazing activities do not promote intragroup valuation; rather they are detrimental to the formation of strong social cohesion within the group. The results also indicate that appropriate team building exercises are greater predictors of team cohesion (Van Raalte et al., 2007).

Hazing as an expression of dominance[edit | edit source]

Senior members use hazing to assert their dominance over new members

A popular theory is that dominance is a motivating factor for hazing and that hazing reinforces group hierarchy (Cimino, 2011; Keating et al., 2005). Hazing acts to establish the dominance of the senior group members over the new members as well as institute social control over the new members (Keating et al., 2005). In effect hazing trains newcomers to comply with the groups pre-existing authority structure and establish social control (Keating et al., 2005). However Honeycutt (2005) suggests that expressing dominance through hazing acts to serve the senior members of the group just as much as it serves the group’s authority structure. Honeycutt (2005) indicates that veteran group members use hazing as a way to maintain their power within the group. Similarly Robidoux (2001) describes hazing as a way for senior members to celebrate their power over new members.

Hazing as a selection process for committed group members[edit | edit source]

Hazing: Committed for life?

Another common theory is that hazing acts as a process that allows the group to select only the most committed pledges to become members. Most of the literature on the topic suggests that hazing occurs in order to prove the worth and commitment of the pledge and to weed out any pledges who are uncommitted or weak (Johnson, 2000; Moreland & Levine, 2002; Vigil, 1996). In addition many groups that support the use of hazing, such as Greek letter organisations, military groups and gangs, are looking for life long members (Rogers, Rogers & Anderson, 2012). As such hazing may act as a tool to ensure that the group is only inviting in new members who are willing to be committed, life long participants (Rogers et al., 2012).

Figure 1. Description of 'pledge lines'

A Limitation to hazing as a selection process for committed group members[edit | edit source]

A study conducted by Rogers et al. (2012) aimed to examine the relationship between hazing and membership within a fraternity group at an alumni level. The study consisted of 317 alumni level graduates who were, at some point in their lives, initiated into a fraternity. The participants reported their current membership status (active members= 193, inactive members= 124) and if they had participated in a pledge line (Figure 1) during their initiation. Results showed no significant relationship between participation in pledge lines and link between participation pledge lines and membership persistence (Rogers et al., 2012). These results suggest that life long commitment is not established during the hazing process.

A psychological explanation[edit | edit source]

Severity-attraction hypothesis[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. A description of cognitive dissonance and effort justification

The severity-attraction hypothesis, proposed by Aronson and Mills in 1959, suggests that the more effort required by an individual to complete a goal, the more that person will rationalise the goal as being worthy of such effort; when effort is increased, the importance of the goal is also increased. This theory relies on the idea of effort justification, a branch of Cognitive Dissonance Theory. A description of cognitive dissonance and effort justification can be found in Figure 2. The severity-attraction also suggests that greater cognitive dissonance occurs when participation in effort costing tasks is voluntary, as such there is a higher level of motivation to resolve psychological discomfort (Aronson & Mills, 1959). Resolution of cognitive dissonance can occur in two ways:

  1. Increase the subjective value of the reward; ‘this reward is so good that it was worth the effort.’
  2. Decrease the negative aspects of effort task; ‘it really wasn’t that much effort and the task was really fun/meaningful.’ (Aronson & Mills, 1959).

Gerard and Mathewson, 1966: A psychological study
Figure 3. Results from Gerard and Mathewson's 1966 study

In 1966, Gerard and Mathewson employed 48 undergraduate volunteers, all of whom received electric shocks during the experiment. Half of the participants were told that it was a psychological experiment (the non-initiate condition). The remaining participants were told that the experiment was actually part of an initiation in order to become a member of a discussion group on campus morals (the initiate condition). In each condition half of the participant received weak shocks (mild initiate condition) and half received strong shocks (severe initiate condition). All participants were then subjected to dull and uninteresting discussion, the ‘initiates’ believed the discussion was a recording of a previous meeting of the group they were ‘joining’. The ‘non-initiates’ believed it was just another part of the psychological experiment. Results (as shown in Figure 3) showed that in the initiation condition, the more severe the shock, the higher participants rated the group members and discussion. Whereas in the non-initiation condition, the more severe the shock, the lower the participants rated the group members and discussion. These results indicate that the ‘initiates’ had to increase the subjective value of the discussion group to resolve cognitive dissonance (Gerard & Mathewson, 1966).

Hazing and the severity-attraction hypothesis[edit | edit source]

The following is an example of how the severity-attraction hypothesis works in relation to hazing:

Meet John, John has just entered college and is excited to join the fraternity Alpha Sigma Phi, but before John and become a member he must complete some tasks, but he is more than willing to participate none the less. It is only after completing the tasks that he realises just how humiliating and demanding they were and as such psychological discomfort begins to generate. He thinks to him-self "why did I put myself through that just to join some group when there are so many other groups out there?" In order to rid him self of these thoughts and his discomfort John uses effort justification in order to increase the subjective value of the group. He now thinks to himself “Belonging to this group is so worthwhile that it is worth suffering in order to become a member."

Overall, the harsher the hazing, the greater the likelihood of effort of justification, and as such, the greater the chance that the new member will view the group as worthwhile and better than other groups, ultimately contributing to his or her loyalty and to the solidarity of the group.

A sociological explanation[edit | edit source]

Social Identity Theory[edit | edit source]

Social identity theory suggests that groups are formed on the basis of similarities; each member within the group holds similar views, perceive each other in similar ways and as such identify with each other (Stets & Burke, 2000). This group is known as the in-group and all these similarities are defined when contrasted with people from other groups (out-groups) (Stets & Burke, 2000). These similarities, which differentiate the in-group from out-groups, are known as group norms and each member conforms to these pre-existing norms when they enter the group (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010). Social identity theory further suggests that in-group bias forms due to in-groups favoring their own norms over those of out-groups, which can lead to an ‘us vs. them’ mid-set, ultimately leading to a negative out-group bias (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010). Social identity theory can be used to explain how hazing acts to preserve group norms and how in-group bias can lead to the use of hazing as a tool to reaffirm social gender norms.

Preserving group norms[edit | edit source]

Hazing acts to cultivate group relevant skills and as such preserve the critical features of group life (Keating et al., 2005). As such hazing activities are designed to introduce new-members to the pre-existing morals, virtues, norms, ideals and principles of the group (Campo et al., 2005). For instance, athletic groups use more physically challenging and painful activities to introduce new-members to the physical values of the group and ensure that all new members have good physical endurance and are fit enough and strong enough to live up to the pre-existing standards of the group (Keating et al., 2005). In contrast the norms of Greek letter organizations, such sororities and fraternities, revolve around exclusive social networking and ‘popularity’. As such these values are reflected in the use of hazing activities related to social deviance and sexual tasks rather than physical and painful activities (Keating et al., 2005). Similarly the norms of military groups are associated with obedience and putting the team first. In order to ensure that new recruits are willing to carry out any order regardless of personal cost hazing activities are designed to be particularly brutal, painful and humiliating (Aronson & Mills, 1959).

Gender norms influence the types of activities used in hazing

Reaffirming social gender norms[edit | edit source]

Hazing activities also act to reaffirm the desired social gender norms within the group. Born from the desire to prove ones manliness, hazing activities within male dominated groups often test masculine traits such as: aggression, pain tolerance activities, and activities that marginalise homosexuals and devaluate women. These traits are the focus of hazing activities in order to ensure a certain level of ‘manliness’ is maintained within the group. For these reasons hazing presents the opportunity for males to prove they are ‘real men’ and as such prove their heterosexuality (Huysamer & Lemmer, 2013). The influence of social gender norms can also be found in female predominant hazing groups. The stereotypical view that women are preoccupied with body image and social life is reflected in hazing activities designed to lower self-esteem and focus on sexual promiscuity (Huysamer & Lemmer, 2013). Such activities include ‘boob ranking’ and ‘public body-critiquing assembly’, in which the new member must stand naked in a room full of people while the senior group members point out every flaw on her body (Huysamer & Lemmer, 2013).

Managing the issue [edit | edit source]

Prevention[edit | edit source]

Join the worthwhile cause to stop hazing and help yourself by helping the community. As this chapter has demonstrated hazing is a dangerous and abusive tradition which should be, and in half the world is, banned. But what about the other half? Even within first world countries such as the United States hazing is still legal within some states. The argument is that hazing is a worthwhile tradition which fosters harmony, solidarity and obedience. However while these may be motivating factors for why hazing occurs it does not make them true. From what you have learnt in this chapter you have the power to change: change laws, change popular opinion, and prevent further harm and drain on taxpayer resources. How can you do this?

Get the facts[edit | edit source]

This chapter is a stepping stone to understanding how hazing actually works, do more research on the subject an find out for yourself just how valid the arguments to 'keep hazing around' are. Then use the information to bring about change.

Raise awareness[edit | edit source]

By using your voice you can draw attention to the problem and let others know that hazing is not acceptable. Let the world know the true facts about hazing and debunk the misconception that hazing is a useful tool or just a prank. Who can you talk to? Every one and anyone! the more people that are made aware of the issue the better. Talk to you friends, talk to your family, discuss it on online forums, contact you local senator, school board or media station. Speaking up and raising awareness is the first step to change.

Help yourself[edit | edit source]

Seek support[edit | edit source]

Many of the psychological and physical scars that hazing leave on the victim are hard to cope with alone, seeking the support of a professional (be it a doctor or a counsellor) will help to heal the wounds inflicted during hazing. However if seeking professional help seems to daunting there are other programmes and people you can turn to for help. Start with family and/or friends, simply having someone understand what you are going through can lighten the tremendous burden of keeping the secret to yourself and help to eradicate the feeling of being alone. Alternately see below for a list of support programmes.

Finding the right place to belong[edit | edit source]

Finding the right place to belong means finding a group in which you feel safe, respected and involved. If you are thinking of joining a particular group do some research first, find out what the group is like, what sort of traditions they uphold, if they have been known for committing unacceptable hazing behaviour before. If you are already a member of a group which practices hazing activities learn to say when enough is enough before it goes to far. When you are involved in a hazing activity ask yourself "how far am i willing to go to join this group?" Are you willing to die for it? Are you willing to give up your human rights for it? are you willing to be seriously injured by it (physically or mentally)?. If the answer to any of these questions is "no" think about the activity you are being asked to complete. Is there a possibility of physical danger? Is there extreme risk? Has anyone ever died from this behaviour before? Is it degrading, demeaning or humiliating? Are there other groups i can turn to? If the answer to any of these questions is yes: say no. Saying no and leaving the group may seem hard but ultimately you will be better off because of it.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

There are many arguments which can be used as a way to promote the idea that hazing is an important tradition, including the use of hazing as a tool for group solidarity, a way to convey group hierarchy,a selection process for committed members, preserving group norms and reaffirming social gender norms. However several of these theories are not supported reliably by research studies and none of the arguments negate the fact that hazing is a dangerous tradition that leads to physically and psychological health issues and even death. As such it is understanding that hazing can be prevented by doing the research and speaking out, and that hazing victims can find help through professional, anonymous or personal support is important.

See Also[edit | edit source]


Hazing in Greek letter organisations

Bullying and emotion


Emotional impacts of sexual assault

References[edit | edit source]

Aronson, E., & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. Journal Of Abnormal And Social Psychology, 59(2), 177-181. doi:10.1037/h0047195

Campo, S., Poulos, G., & Sipple, J. (2005). Prevalence and profiling: hazing among college students and points of intervention. American Journal Of Health Behavior, 29(2), 137-149. Retrieved from

Cimino, A. (2011). The Evolution of Hazing: Motivational Mechanisms and the Abuse of Newcomers. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 11(3/4), 241-267. doi: 10.1163/156853711X591242

Finkel, M. A. (2002). Traumatic injuries caused by hazing practices. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 20(3), 228-233. Retrieved from

Gerard, H. B., & Mathewson, G. C. (1966). The effects of severity of initiation on liking for a group: A replication. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2(3), 278–287. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(66)90084-9

Hollmann, B. B. (2002). Hazing: Hidden campus crime. New Directions for Student Services, 2002(99), 11-24. Retrieved from

Honeycutt, C. (2005). Hazing as a process of boundary maintenance in an online community. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(2), 00-00. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2005.tb00240.x

Huysamer, C., & Lemmer, E. M. (2013). Hazing in orientation programmes in boys-only secondary schools. South African Journal of Education, 33(3), 1-22. Retrieved from

Johnson, J. (2000). Hazed and confused: Hazing experiences versus anti-hazing policies: Case studies of two southern Ontario universities. (Master’s thesis). University of Toronto, Toronto, Cananda.

Keating, C. F., Pomerantz, J., Pommer, S. D., Ritt, S. H., Miller, L. M., & McCormick, J. (2005). Going to College and Unpacking Hazing: A Functional Approach to Decrypting Initiation Practices Among Undergraduates. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, And Practice, 9(2), 104-126. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.9.2.104

Leslie, J., Taff, M. L., & Mulvihill, M. (1985). Forensic aspects of fraternity hazing. American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology, 6(1), 53-67. doi: 10.1097/00000433-198503000-00011

Lipkins, S. (2006). Preventing hazing: How parents, teachers and coaches can stop the violence, harassment and humiliation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nuwer, H. (2000). High school hazing: When rites become wrongs. New York, NY: Franklin Watts.

Nuwer, H. (2001). Wrongs of passage: Fraternities, sororities, hazing and binge drinking. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Robidoux, M. A. (2001). Men at play: A working understanding of professional hockey. Montréal, QC: McGill-Queen’s Press.

Rogers, S., Rogers, C., & Anderson, T. (2012). Examining the link between pledging, hazing, and organizational commitment among members of a black Greek fraternity. Oracle: the Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, 7(1), 43-53. Retrieved from

Stets, J. E., & Burke, P. J. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(3), 224-237. Retrieved from

Van Raalte, J. L., Cornelius, A. E., Linder, D. E., & Brewer, B. W. (2007). The relationship between hazing and team cohesion. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30(4), 491-507. Retrieved from

Vaughan, G. M., & Hogg, M. A. (2010). Essentials of social Psychology. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Australia.

Vigil, J. D. (1996). Street baptism: Chicano gang initiation. Human Organization, 55(2), 149-153. Retrieved from