Hazing intends to strengthen bonds, not necessarily humiliate

Hazing — the word itself conjures up images of college students drinking excessively, performing dangerous stunts and inflicting pain on themselves and others. But while these physical effects may be the most evident, the psychological effects may be even more dangerous, according to psychologists and sociologists familiar with the phenomena.

"The psychological effects are not as clear (as its physical effects), but they are longer lasting and could lead to depression or even suicide," said Brian Crow, associate professor of sport management at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

Hazing "can induce a lot of negative self-esteem," said Stephen Guastello, professor of psychology. "It can create a feeling of inadequacy or embarrassment."

In most cases, hazing is inflicted by members of a group and directed toward newcomers to that group, Guastello said.

"Sometimes somebody acts spontaneously," he said, "but when an individual goes too far, they are often playing to the group."

Individuals involved in hazing will only do what they believe the group will support, he said.

As far as the actual groups are concerned, hazing does have at least one positive effect, according to Stephen Franzoi, professor of psychology.

"When people pay a cost to join an organization, and they are compared to people who didn't pay that cost, the people who paid the cost will evaluate the group more positively," he said.

Franzoi also said that, in some cases, hazing could cause members to "identify more strongly with the group, in an effort to justify the cost they paid."

Guastello agreed with Franzoi that hazing incidences are not always rooted in the desire to humiliate other individuals.

"Some fraternity rituals actually seem unusual but are meant to increase bonding," he said. "In these cases, they most likely do not use the word 'hazing.'"

Oftentimes, hazing in this form is meant to bring members of a group together by participating in shared experiences, Guastello said.

As a result, it is often difficult to get individuals who were involved in incidents of hazing to admit to their participation.

"Hazing is viewed negatively," Franzoi said, "to admit to this, in a sense, is like asking members to admit that there is something wrong with the group."

"The group is usually an extension of the self-concept of the members," he said.

Despite numerous crackdowns at universities across the nation, hazing still continues to be a part of many groups, including athletic teams and fraternities.

Hazing "becomes a part of a group's social norms," Franzoi said. "Established members had to endure this, now it's their turn. It's tradition."

"I was hazed as a fraternity pledge, and in turn hazed the guys who followed me," said Dale Terry, the Marquette alumnus who submitted pictures of the Marquette lacrosse club at a party to the university earlier this month, wrote in a Nov. 9 e-mail. He declined to discuss over telephone the incident or his finding the pictures.

Hazing "will perpetuate as the new members move up the totem pole," Guastello said, "they will do what was done to them."

However, Guastello said that a pleasant and constructive attitude toward initiation would perpetuate an established group as well.

According to Crow, the trouble starts when established members "want to do what happened to them, but make it a little bit worse."

"There are positive initiation rituals," he said, " but there are absolutely no positive effects of hazing.

While hazing is sometimes used to strengthen bonds between group members, there are some ulterior motives, Guastello said.

"There seems to be one other element," he said, "that element is the formation of dominant-submissive relationships."

It is these cases, in which the established members impose their will upon the newcomers, that often create negative self-esteem, Guastello said.