One aspect that many rookies face in novel situations is hazing. Hazing is defined as harassment, abuse, or humiliation by way of initiation. This definition, however, can include both physical and mental forms of hazing. It is a process that may occur in many different contexts, such as fraternities and sororities, the armed forces, and even the workplace (Davis, 1998). Although hazing has been prevalent throughout the years, it is poorly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature that often accompanies rookie situations, especially within fraternities. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to understand the underlying mechanisms that perpetuate hazing.
While the majority of hazing cases go unreported, there have been several incidents where pledges of fraternities have been severely injured or even killed. On February 10, 1997, a Clarkson University freshman, along with other pledges, was instructed to drink hard alcohol out of a large bucket. Attempting to impress the members of the fraternity, the 17-year-old drank until the members carried him upstairs. He was found dead the next day, apparently from choking on his own vomit (Sweet, 1999). There are countless other hazing stories as well, and, while the majority are not this severe, many do include acts of abuse or humiliation. A recent graphic by Education News, titled Dying to Belong: The Dangers of Hazing, offers a very clear summary of the hazing problem.
One may read these stories and ponder as to why individuals allow themselves to be subjected to such treatment. Or, one may question why hazing occurs in the first place. However, the answer is not a simple one. There are many factors that cause this behavior to continue, without the objection of either the members of the group or the pledges themselves. One theory suggests that hazing occurs to facilitate strong commitment and loyalty to the group. In addition, fraternities view hazing as a necessary component of their initiation rites (Sweet, 1999). For example, many fraternities, as well as other groups, manipulate the material self of the pledge in order to create a new identity, one that coincides with the organization. Pledges may be forced to wear clothes or carry paddles with the Greek symbols of the fraternity. New employees within organizations may be subjected to similar forms of treatment by wearing uniforms with the company logo. All in all, this is done to facilitate group cohesiveness. In addition, fraternities may limit outside relationships that their pledges may have formed. Again, this type of treatment leads to stronger group commitment.
There are several reasons why pledges or rookies allow hazing to occur. For one, hazing affords the opportunity for in-group/out-group biases, as the in-group contains its own identity, values, beliefs, etc. Pledges may feel the need to belong to the in-group, thus subjecting themselves to hazing. In addition, escalation of commitment may play a role in that the organization or fraternity may have the pledges perform small tasks at first. Then, once an event that would normally be out of someone’s comfort zone presents itself, the person is more likely to comply. In addition, cognitive dissonance, described by Leon Festinger, may perpetuate hazing. In this case, the individual being hazed experiences dissonance from holding contradictory opinions about hazing. In order to reduce the dissonance, the individual may rationalize that hazing is merely a prank, thereby modifying the cognition. Or, the person may lower the importance of the cognition, believing, for example, that hazing is not a very serious matter. Finally, Aronson and Mills (1959) discovered that severity of initiation increased liking to the group (see relevant discussion by Nuwer, 1978). A related study by Lodewijkx and Syroit (1997) supported this notion and added that increased attractiveness to the group is an additional effect. In conclusion, hazing is an interesting phenomenon that requires more research in order to understand its complexities. For a recent study of hazing among NCAA sports teams, see http://www.alfred.edu/news/html/hazing_study.html.
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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 2000 at Miami University. All graphics are from the public domain,used with permission, or were created by the authors. Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 23:13:04. This document has been accessed 2,731times since 1 May 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman