Motivational Mechanisms and Hazing Behavior

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Principal investigator:

Aldo Cimino

University of California, Santa Barbara



Sample size: 914

Field period: 4/12/2006-4/20/2006


Hazing—the abuse of new or prospective group members—remains a puzzling and persistent cross-cultural phenomenon. Aspects of hazing behavior may reflect the operation of psychological adaptations designed to lessen certain forms of ancestral coalitional exploitation. Using a representative sample of the United States, this study tested and extended prior findings on predictors of hazing motivation in a university population. Results suggest that freely available group benefits predict desired hazing severity, and that these effects generalize to a larger and more diverse sample.


H1: Participants primed as high contributors to their group will haze more severely than participants primed as low contributors.
H2: Participants assigned to a strongly cooperative group will haze more severely than participants assigned to a weakly cooperative group.
H3: Automatic group benefits will positively predict desired hazing severity and mediate the effect of group type on hazing severity (see H2).
H4: Non-automatic group benefits will fail to predict hazing severity after statistically controlling for automatic benefits.
H5: Hazing severity will be positively associated with hazing coerciveness.

Experimental Manipulations

1. Group type: a) Ice Walkers (Strongly Cooperative), a group of extreme sports, arctic survival specialists; b) Bug Watchers (Weakly Cooperative), a group of entomology enthusiasts.
2. Contribution level: a) High (i.e., significant personal contribution) b) Low, (i.e., moderate personal contribution).


1. Hazing severity: Hazing severity is operationalized as the desired stressfulness of the initiation.

Summary of Results

H1: Mixed support; there was no main effect of contribution on hazing severity, though contribution interacted with sex and predicted hazing severity for men.
H2: Supported; group type positively predicted hazing severity.
H3: Mixed support; automatic benefits predicted hazing severity in the strongly cooperative group, but not the weakly cooperative group.
H4: Supported; non-automatic benefits were not associated with hazing severity after statistically controlling for automatic benefits.
H5: Supported; hazing severity was positively associated with hazing coerciveness.


Similar to prior experiments, automatic benefits and group type acted as independent predictors of hazing severity, while non-automatic benefits did not. In addition, hazing severity was positively associated with the amount of pressure applied to hazees. Unlike in prior experiments, however, automatic benefits did not  have any mediation effect and the contribution manipulation had no main effect on hazing severity.

Additional Information

Automatic/Non-automatic benefits: Automatic group benefits are low cost and become available around the time of group entry. Participants rate four group benefits, three of which are automatic (status, group aid, and short-term, cost-free skill acquisition) and one of which is non-automatic (long-term, high effort skill acquisition). "Automatic benefits" is thus a summed, composite variable.


Cimino, A. 2011. The evolution of hazing: Motivational mechanisms and the abuse of newcomers. Journal of Cognition and Culture. 11:241-267.