Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere

Group Dynamics

What function do initiation rituals serve?

Initiation rites are found in diverse groups across many different cultures. Before being accepted to the group, an initiate must undergo various trials, most involving some degree of discomfort, pain, and humiliation. Such rites serve to increase initiates’ loyalty and obedience to the group and to heighten the boundary between the in-group and the out-group. Social psychologists have theorized about the mechanism behind initiation rites. Some have suggested that cognitive dissonance plays a role. This theory, first presented by Leon Festinger in 1957, states that people tend to rationalize away contradictory thoughts. Therefore, an initiate might reason “if I went though all this trouble to join this group, I must really want to get in.”


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