Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 2:19 am | Fair 44º

 
 
 
 

UCSB Anthropologist Examines the Motivating Factors Behind Hazing

It happens in military units, street gangs and even among athletes on sports teams. In some cultures, the rituals mark the transition from adolescence to adulthood. And in fraternities and sororities, it's practically a given.

With a long history of seemingly universal acceptance, the practice of hazing is an enduring anthropological puzzle. Why have so many cultures incorporated it into their group behavior? Aldo Cimino, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, seeks to answer that question. His work is highlighted in the online edition of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

"Hazing exists in radically different cultures around the world, and the ethnographic record is replete with examples of initiation rites that include hazing," Cimino said. "It is a practice that cultures continually rediscover and invest themselves in. The primary goal of my research is to understand why."

One hypothesis Cimino is exploring involves evolved psychology.

"The human mind may be designed to respond to new group members in a variety of ways, and one of those ways may be something other than a hug," he said. "I'm not claiming that hazing is inevitable in human life, that everyone will haze, or that nothing will reduce hazing. But I am suggesting that the persistence of hazing across different social, demographic and ecological environments suggests that our shared, evolved psychology may be playing a role."

Hazing and bullying have a lot in common — individuals who possess some kind of power abuse those who don't — but what makes hazing strange, according to Cimino, is that it's directed at future allies.

"It's very rare for bullies to say, ‘I'm going to bully you for three months, but after that we're going to be bros,' but that's the sort of thing that happens with hazing," he said.

Cimino suggested that in some human ancestral environments, aspects of hazing might have served to protect veteran members from threats posed by newcomers.

"It's almost as though the period of time around group entry was deeply problematic," he said. "This may have been a time during which coalitions were exploited by newcomers. Our intuitions about how to treat newcomers may reflect this regularity of the past. Abusing newcomers — hazing — may have served to temporarily alter their behavior, as well as select out uncommitted newcomers when membership was non-obligatory."

Cimino performed a study on a representative sample of the United States, in which participants imagined themselves as members of hypothetical organizations. Organizations that participants believed had numerous benefits for newcomers (e.g., status, protection) were also those that inspired more hazing.

"In my research I've found that group benefits that could quickly accrue for newcomers — automatic benefits — predict people's desire to haze," he said. "This isn't the only variable that matters — there's some effect of age and sex, for example — but the effect of automatic benefits suggests that potential vectors of group exploitation alter people's treatment of newcomers in predictable ways."

He cautioned that scientists are a long way from understanding hazing completely.

"Hazing is a complex phenomenon that has more than one cause, so it would be a mistake to believe that I have solved the puzzle," Cimino said. "However, every study brings us a little closer to understanding a phenomenon that seems increasingly visible and important."

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.