Teasing is a pervasive activity that occurs in most group contexts including family, friends, coworkers and teammates. While teasing is commonly thought of as an ostracizing mechanism, new research has suggested that teasing actually facilitates bonds within a group and acts as an indicator of intimacy. While teasing is most prevalent among group members who are familiar with one another, teasing can be used among strangers to communicate friendliness and indirectly express affection.  Thus, teasing can actually integrate the rookie by revealing both the norms of the group as well as the status of it's members.

What is teasing?
             Teasing has been described by psychologists as privileged disrespect (Radcliffe-Brown, 1940),  playful annoyance (Pawluk, 1989), and a mock insult (Eisennberg, 1986).  The contradictory nature of this word is best conveyed through its derivation.  Teasing roots from the Anglo-Saxon word taesan (to tear apart) and the French word attiser (to make warm) (Pawluk, 1989).  Teasing ranges from playful joking to aggressive bullying and can be expressed both physically and verbally.  While bullying takes the form of hitting, kicking and other violent behaviors,  teasing is manifested through nicknames, facial gestures and taunting (Keltner et all, 1998).

Teasing: A bonding mechanism

So how can an action that often elicits humiliation actually increase group bonds?  A study involving fraternity members can help answer this question.  The group was divided into low-status and high-status members who were monitored while teasing each other.  Their teasing centered around deviations from the norms such as sexual behavior and drug use.  This provided the new members with information concerning standards of behavior as well as the group hierarchy.  While unpleasant at times, the teasing was seemingly enjoyable as it generated smiles and laughter from the participants.  In addition, the fraternity members who participated in the teasing study, rated each other higher than the other fraternity members with whom they did not tease.


           To conclude, teasing is an ironic behavior.  It unites people while embarrassing them and expresses affection though humiliation.  Teasing allows socialization to occur by conveying the group norms, faciliating bonds through laughter and allows one to establish a social identity.  Ultimately, teasing helps to satisfy a fundamental human motivation- to be an integral part of a group (Baumeister, 1995).

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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 23:13:05. This document has been accessed  1times since 1 May 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman