Escalation of Commitment in Extreme Groups

by Scott Constable, Lucretia Klaber,
Mick Rakauskas, & Zachary Shuler

    Being part of a social society, we are required to be a part of countless groups in order to be an effective member of society.  This is ingrained into our minds early on as a deep rooted need to belong and fit in with other individuals.  Fact is, though, that there are many different types of groups trying to obtain numerous types of goals.  Not only that, but each member believes that his or her objectives are of the utmost importance.  In all, much more needs to be said about groups before the issue is resolved.

    A group, by definition, is a social aggregate in which members are interdependent (i.e. have mutual influence on each other) and have at least the potential for mutual interaction (Taylor, Peplau, Sears 1997).  We have found that many groups exhibit the following features.  First, there are concrete roles that help keep the group moving forward by splitting up the responsibility for necessary tasks.  Also, groups have expectations of how other members should behave, called norms.  Another essential part of a group is it's communication structure, which is sometimes the only way in which information is passed through the group.  One of the more salient aspects of groups is the power structure, denoting influence within the group.  [photo used by permission of Headwaters Forest Earth First]

    When a person feels that they belong to a group and have intrinsic ties to its statements and goals, he or she is said to have a commitment to that group.  As one's relationship to a group grows with time and further influence of group members, that commitment has a tendency to escalate.  Sometimes this escalation of commitment is comforting and desired by the person, but at other times the helpless victim is manipulated by the group.  There are also many positive and negative forces that work to keep a person in a group or relationship.  Positive forces include interpersonal attraction and satisfaction with a relationship.  Negative forces include such barriers to ending the relationship as having made a large investment in the group or lacking other alternatives (Taylor, Peplau, Sears 1997).

    After some investigation, we came to the conclusion that an extreme group is a social aggregate whose ideals are excessive and outside the boundaries of cultural norms.  These new norms override any previous social mores that may have existed and change the way in which a person acts while under the influence of the group.  In our research, we found a plethora of groups that fell under this definition.  We found that The Church of Scientology uses many different forms of persuasion.  One of these mechanisms is how they create and sell numerous expensive therapies, services, and programs to involve their members in the working of their religion.  The Michigan Militia Corps. display some characteristics of conformity and compliance.  They have been known to use threats and commands in their daily dealings.  We found that some extreme religious groups, such as The Brethren, use obedience on a regular basis.  The leaders of this group interpret scriptures for their members and expect their followers to be faithful to their teachings.  Also, environmental groups such as Earth First! in general use many different forms of influential group decision making to obtain their goals.  In many cases, members fall victim to groupthink, intense social influences, and deindividuation.


Persuasion & Scientology

Compliance, Conformity, & Obedience in Cults and Militant Groups

Group Decision Making in Environmental Groups

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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 1999 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission or under fair use guidelines, or were created by the authors.  Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).  Last revised: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 00:27:28. This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 May 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman