You must turn off your ad blocker to use Psych Web; however, we are taking pains to keep advertising minimal and unobtrusive (one ad at the top of each page) so interference to your reading should be minimal.

If you need instructions for turning off common ad-blocking programs, click here.

If you already know how to turn off your ad blocker, just hit the refresh icon or F5 after you do it, to see the page.

Psi man mascot

Movements and Exclusive Organizations

Some of the most powerful social phenomena occur when people act in exclusive groups, defined by a purpose or identity, united in defining their own independent character. This happens with clubs, associations, institutions, religions, businesses, and nations.

The label "exclusive groups" is intended to leave out those social organizations that people can enter and exit at will, without requirements. In exclusive groups, the group identity is defined by membership requirements: features that define inclusion in the group.

To grow, an organization must recruit new members. If there are membership requirements, then induction into the group is commonly marked with an initiation ritual or ceremony.

Once a person is in the group, certain disciplines are expected, whether the group is a school, religion, corporation, university, fraternal order, army unit, or nation. People who break the rules are disciplined, and if they are judged to be dangerous to the group, they are excluded from it.


For a social organization to continue to exist, new members must be recruited. To enable this, benefits of membership must be publicized.

Propaganda (literally messages to be propagated) must be generated and relayed through some medium, whether it is radio, TV, books, internet, or word of mouth. Social media are the newest and cheapest ways to recruit members to exclusive groups.

How do organizations use propaganda?

Historically, in the United States, only enemy messages were called propa­ganda. However, if the word is taken literally, propaganda surrounds us in the form of messages that people want propagated.

That includes advertising and public relations messages from institutions of all kinds. Propaganda is a message the sender wants replicated, and often it is an attempt at persuasion and attitude change, aimed at bolstering an instiution.

Religious movements use free books and pamphlets, radio and television, revival meetings, and in some cases volunteers go from door to door. College admissions departments mail brochures and posters to secondary schools, send traveling admissions teams to high schools, and run ads during sports broadcasts.

Web sites are now almost a mandatory requirement for organizations to perform recruitment functions. They answer questions, provide a tour, show membership benefits, list requirements, and provide rules, frees, or forms for admission, all functions that were performed in person or by slow postal mail in the pre-internet era.

As a system, an organization must maintain itself and grow or die. It must defend its identity against internal destabilization, socialize new members, maintain itself, grow, defend its identity, and all the other things that any dynamic system must do, to survive and thrive.

To consider an organization as a system unto itself, with its own rules and tendencies and actions, the most relevant discipline is sociology, which studies social systems as such. Social psychology is related and overlapping, but it focuses on the individual's role or impact on a system, or conversely, the social system's impact on the individual.

What is the different emphasis of sociology and social psychology?

Special rituals and requirements for new members of a group are called initiation rituals. The new recruit is tested, physi­cally or symbolically, to see if he or she can stand up to the demands of the newly-joined organization. Is the individual willing to sacrifice comfort or well-being for the sake of the group membership?

Anthropologists have a label–mortifica­tion rituals–for induction ceremonies that inflict pain or humiliation or otherwise mortify the new member of the group. To mortify is, literally, to threaten death, and mortification rituals often threaten death actually or symbolically.

What are mortification rituals?

For example, in the initiation ritual for the Freemasons, the candidate is blind­folded and then led around by a rope around his neck. As the candidate approaches the oath of secrecy, the sharp point of a sword is place against his left breast.

Similarly, the Skull and Bones society at Yale puts a new member into a coffin. Members chant at him and he is "reborn" into the society.

Hazing is one variety of initiation ritual. Now banned on many college campuses, hazing rituals can be painful, humiliating, or dangerous. In a typical hazing ritual, new members of a group are forced to endure pain or ridicule.

First-year students at military schools may be given insulting names (like grunts, rats, or pleebs). They may be required to perform humiliating services for older students.

At one United States Air Force base, new pilots were welcomed into an exclusive group by having wing pins pounded into their flesh. (The command­ing officer was fired when that particular ritual gained national attention.)

How does dissonance theory explain the effectiveness of tough initiation rituals?

Mortification rituals encourage the com­raderie that results from shared experi­ences of hardship, familiar to any war veteran. One reason for mortification rituals and other demanding initation requirements is found in Kenneth Boulding's concept of the Sacrifice Trap.

When people have sacrificed something for a group, they feel more committed to it and are more likely to defend it. That is a direct implication of cognitive disso­nance theory (the context in which we first discussed Boulding's Sacrifice Trap).

Painful or stressful initiation experiences have a long history in the human species. In many cultures, young men or women are forced to submit to painful body alterations like circumcision or tattooing, as a symbol of entry into adulthood.

Physical stress can also serve to make a new group member dependent and obedient, weary and incapable of thinking clearly, ready to do only what he or she is told to do. Dreifus (1982) quoted a young woman describing conditions at a week­end retreat for a cult-like religious group:

We were allowed only four or five hours of sleep a night. There were also three-hour-long lectures, during which we sat on the floor, and we played a lot of exhausting games in which we learned to function under a group leader. I got so tired that it was hard to think straight.

How can physical stress make a new recruit more susceptible to group pressures?

Similar procedures are used to harden a Marine. A new recruit at Parris Island undergoes quite a stress test. Orr Kelly, an associate editor of U.S. News and World Report, described the proce­dures as they existed in 1979:

From the moment the apprehensive recruits step out of the buses...and take their places on yellow footprints painted on the pavement, the pressure never lets up.

At breakfast, long before dawn, they march through the chow line silently and at attention. Sixteen hours later, they lie at attention on their bunks and sing the Marine Hymn.

Parris Island is a carefully designed pressure cooker in which 23,400 men and 2,500 women a year are stripped of their individuality and converted, in 10 weeks and two days, into Marines.

"We teach them how to stand and how to talk," says Staff Sgt. G.F. Jones, a drill instructor. "Everything they knew, we've taken away from them. All they know is what we tell them."

They are taught to speak, and even think, of themselves as "the recruit." The word "I" is gone as surely as the hair that falls to the barbershop floor early on the first morning at the recruit depot. (Kelly, 1979)

Often newcomers to an organization are infantilized (rendered babylike). They are given a shaven head, long flowing robes, or rules of conduct that forbid them from speaking unless spoken to.

The significance of a shaven head has been understood since the Biblical story of Samson. It indicates the taming of the wild man and submission to control or discipline.

At our university, first year football recruits once had their heads shaved before the first practice. (That was, however, partly a fond reference to the legendary bald-headed coach who started our program.)

How are newcomers to an organization infantilized?

Chappell and Lanza-Kaduce (2009) studied socialization of new police recruits. They found that police acade­mies retained the features of military organizations.

To be accepted into either a police department or the military, new recruits must endure an intense training and adult socialization process to prepare them for the realities of potentially dangerous jobs that incorporate the use of force. Training for both law enforce­ment and the military emphasizes physical training; performing under stress; and the mastery of defensive tactics, weapons, and the use of force.

Indeed, police academies are characterized by many of the same rituals as boot camp in the military, such as stress, an emphasis on chain of command, and group punishments and discipline.

Such socialization experiences are known to strip individuals of their personal characteristics so that they can embrace the "esprit de corps" of the organization... (Chappell and Lanza-Kaduce, 2009)

Mystery can play a role in group cohe­sion. When a new member is recruited to a "secret society" or similar organization, promises are shared, oaths recited, sacred responsibilities pronounced and accepted. Access is allowed to secret writings or places.

Graduation ceremonies at colleges and universities have echoes of ancient at­mospheric elements. Students and fac­ulty wear long flowing robes and listen to speakers make weighty pronounce­ments. Dignitaries hand out scrolls. The rites signify induction into a guild, an ex­clusive group for the educated elite.

Induction ceremonies with elements of mystery or surprise have been going on for literally thousands of years. A famous fresco uncovered at the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii showed an induction cere­mony for a Roman "mystery religion" (and there were quite a few at the time).

A young person is surprised when he looks into a mirrored bowl. He expects to see his own face but instead sees a scary mask (held up by a confederate of the elder who is doing the initiation). The mask presum­ably represented something profound: a challenging spirit, ancestor, or the inductee's hidden fears—part of the mystery.

Segment of fresco
An inductee into a mystery religion looks into a mirrored bowl and sees a horrific face

The oldest religious monument yet found, a series of upright stones at Göbekli Tepe dating to about 13,000 years ago, has subtle carvings of animal figures in the monoliths. By day, they are barely visible.

Image from Gobekli Tepe
One of many images from Göbekli Tepe

By firelight, they come alive as the flicker­ing light from the fire highlights the shadows and makes them appear to move. There was probably nothing else like it, and it might well have been used during an awe-inspiring climax of religious rituals.

One function of intense experiences like boot camp and mortification rituals is to create a common bond among members of a group. Marine training may be tough, and a lot of people might "wash out," but the survivors share a pride felt by every Marine.

What is the end effect of intense initiation experiences, for those who survive?

Precisely because Marine training is tough, it is meaningful. Similarly, if every male in the village goes through the same public circumcision ceremony, there will be a common bond. Blood brothers (those who have shared in some painful ritual) are close because of their mutual understanding and sacrifice.

Organizational Onboarding

Socialization is called onboarding in studies of organizational culture. Most organizations are less military-like than police academies or marines, and the onboarding processes is more like winning over the new employee, rather than "hardening" that person.

Gonzalez, Leidner, and Koch (2015) reviewed organizational socialization practices. They found that social media were increasingly used to make the process easier on new hires. The researchers identified key factors in successful onboarding.

Many organizations implement socialization programs such as buddy systems and training prog­rams to reduce turnover and in­crease employee commitment. ...Four key socialization adjustment indicators are: role clarity, self-efficacy, knowledge of organizational culture and social acceptance. (p.1899)

Role clarity is the new hire's understand­ing of job responsibilities and role in the organization. New employees or group members may experience uncertainty and stress if this is not made clear, or if there is a "disconnect between the job description and the specific expecta­tions." The clearer, the better.

Self-efficacy is a concept we encounter­ed earlier in the context of motivation and willpower. For onboarding of new employees, self-efficacy means the new hire feels empowered to do the job.

This means good tools have been pro­vided and bureaucratic impediments removed. (For example, a new coach might be allowed to hire her own assis­tants and provided with an ade­quate budget.) High self-efficacy results in a happier organization member less likely to leave for a competing organization.

What are four key socialization factors for "onboarding"?

A third key factor of onboarding listed by Gonzalez, Leidner, and Koch (2015) was "knowledge of organizational cul­ture." This is partly the responsibility of the job-taker, who must know what he or she is getting into and investigate day to day realities of a job, before making a long-term commitment.

Finally, social acceptance is key to a new member's satisfaction with a group. A feeling of being liked and accepted will make a new member more likely to stay committed to an organization .

Dealing with Deviants

Every social group has correctional systems or ways of dealing with deviants. In certain religious groups, shunning (refusing to talk to, or even acknowledge, a former member of the group) is a form of punishment and correction used for severe offenses.

How do groups commonly deal with deviants?

A common element in the correct­ional practices of most social systems is exclusion from group membership as a form of punishment. Consider the following correctional practices in different social organizations:

Organization Warning Punishment
College/University Academic probation Expulsion
Church Counseling Excommuni­cation
Society Arrest, probation Incarceration
Family Discipline Disowning
Business Warning, demotion Loss of job
Practice of Law Discipline/warning Disbarment

This again fits the pattern of "things any system must do to maintain its integrity." The common pattern is that harmful elements of a system must be ejected.


Chappell, A. T. & Lanza-Kaduce, L. (2009) Police academy socialization: Understanding the lesson learned in a paramilitary-bureaucratic organization. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39, 187-214. doi:10.1177/0891241609342230

Dreifus, C. (1982, April). Rita Ashdale vs. the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Mademoiselle. Pp.130-2, 246-7.

Gonzalez, E. S., Leidner, D., & Koch, H. (2015) The influence of social media on organizational socialization. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Retrieved from:

Hodgson, J. 2001. Police violence in Canada and the USA: Analysis and management. Policing, 24, 520-549.

Kelly, O. (1979, September 10) How boys and girls become Marines. U.S. News and World Report, p.28.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.