The Relationship Between Bullying, Hazing, & Psychological Attributes in College Students

Though much research has examined bullying within the contexts of elementary and secondary schools, relatively little has addressed bullying that occurs among young adults at the collegiate level. The 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman victimized by cyber-bullying, was one of several such cases that propelled this issue into the national conversation.

The term "hazing" has come to describe a form of group aggression that occurs in college and university settings, often within the contexts of fraternities, sororities, sports teams and marching bands. Research has shown that hazing reinforces the status hierarchy within groups, making members cognitively, socially and emotionally dependent on those groups. Moreover, the presence of hazing suggests that many college students believe that membership in an exclusive club – and its associated perks – outweigh the negative aspects of hazing rituals.

In addition to considering how club membership shapes hazing behaviors, this study is investigating the connection between hazing and the psychological profiles of those who engage in it. The study is also examining the relationship between hazing and retrospective accounts of bullying experienced in elementary and high school.

Several research questions are guiding this inquiry. First, the researchers will determine whether those belonging to campus clubs are less likely to identify hypothetical scenarios as examples of hazing. They will also ascertain whether these club members endorse higher levels of past bullying / victimization behaviors, have a greater capacity for moral disengagement, and place greater value on social acceptance than do non-members. Finally, the research team will investigate whether leadership positions and time spent in a campus club influence members' identification of hazing events and the likelihood of intervening in such scenarios. 

Principal Investigators: Jenna Strawhun (doctoral student, school psychology); Dr. Susan Swearer (professor, school psychology); Dr. Eve Brank (associate professor, psychology); Lori Hoetger (doctoral student, social psychology); Shir Palmon (doctoral student, school psychology)