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"Wisdom hath her excesses, and no less need of moderation than folly." Michel Eyquem De Montaigne

The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group...

November 03, 2003

Thanks to Matt Webb, I've got my hands on an abstract for a paper about difficulty of initiation into groups. According to Aronson, E. & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 177-181. there's a direct correlation between how difficult the process of initiation is and how much people will like the group once they have entered it.

This clearly could have implications for the maintenance and creation of online groups - and I'd be particularly interested in seeing if this kind of approach could limit the problems that so often emerge in online communities. Perhaps simply dramatically raising initiation requirements could create stronger, more heavily-bonded communities that required less in terms of overt moderation. It's particularly interesting to me because as an approach it still means that membership is still effectively open. The particularly approach they took - however - may not be easily replicable (or desirable) online. Here's an excerpt from the abstract:

Participants were undergraduate women who volunteered to participate in a study on the psychology of sex. The study testing their hypotheses was an experiment. The conceptual independent variable was the degree of severity of initiation into a group discussion. Participants were either in a severe initiation condition where they had to read 12 obscene words to an experimenter, a mild initiation condition where they read five words related to sex but were not obscene, or a control condition where no initiation was required.

After undergoing either the severe, mild, or no initiation, participants listened to a discussion by the group that they anticipated that they would be joining. After listening to the group the dependent variable of liking for the group was assessed. The experimental dependent variable was their rating of the discussion group and their rating of the participants in the group on 14 different evaluative scales (e.g., dull-interesting, intelligent-unintelligent, etc.) on scales ranging from 0 to 15.

The results for the study indicated a general pattern such that people in the severe condition liked the group and participants more than those in either the mild initiation and no initiation condition.

The paper itself is not online (but there are a number of references to it online). Should anyone have a copy that they can send to me electronically or snail-mail to me, then I'd be extremely grateful.

Comments

Eli the Bearded said:

The Red Meat Construction Set, http://monkeydyne.com/rmcs/, has an interesting approach. There are two halves to the site, an "open" area where anyone can post and a members only section that anyone can read, but only members can post, vote, or comment on.

To become a member one has to audition. If someone with an account, and with enough points (more in a bit) likes the audition s/he sets you up with an account.

Points are earned by producing good (= well voted on) comics. A certain number of points are required to create new comics, and a higher threshold is needed to create new accounts. All votes are a raw 1 to 10, but the voter's voting pattern is analyzed and what counts towards a user's points is something like the standard deviation from the voter's average.

Points can be recovered by a user if they delete comics that score less than 0. This encourages people to remove unpopular stuff so that they can post at all.

Scott Matthewman said:

On several of the online communities of which I've been a part over the years, the accusation that the discussion areas are "cliquey" often springs up. And yet, the ones at which this charge is most often levied tend to be the most durable. Which I guess is effectively what the paper is saying. Cliques are hard to break into, but it is possible -- and the side-effect is that the bonds between participants are stronger, making discussions more enjoyable not only for the contributors, but also for "lurkers".

The problems can arise if the bar to entry is raised too high -- while still "open" in the technical sense, new members can feel unwanted and shunned, sometimes causing people who would be valid contributors to move on elsewhere. Which, if the community is healthy already, may go unnoticed. But when/if some of the existing members move on for whatever reason, the risk is that there may not be enough new blood to transfuse back in...

Tim said:

I found your site via Kellan of LaughingMeme.

Robert B. Cialdini, in his book The Psychology of Persuasion talks about this phenomenon, and cites several studies that show the harder it is to join a group, the more valuable people find it. Might be worth checking out if you are seriously interested in the topic.

Clay Shirky of www.shirkey.com had a long talk about it at the O'Reilly ETC last year, I'm sure that if you Google him and groups or look on shirkey.com you will find some relevant stuff.

Good luck.

Dan said:

You can see it here at the BBC. The H2G2 (www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/) community here is very strong and one of the reasons for this is the very nature of the site. The functionality is difficult to use, the template design is lousy, the layout is confusing and you couldn't find your way around it even with some webby-GPS thing and features are hidden. Yet the punters love it, well those that survive the first few months and don't leave with a brain hemorrhage.

Itís that process of weeding out that ensures a strong community, the proof that you can stick with it and be a part of the group, overcoming the interface (in so many senses of the word) hurdles to participate. H2G2 is very Masonic in other ways, itís got some secret languages (people spent a period speaking in Bubblish to get around the moderators) and there is a very peculiar markup language for posters use, as well as a plethora of unique emoticons that take a bit of getting used to.

Similar things could be said about our messageboards, the survivors stick together like glue, nothing like hardship to bring people together.

Mayson Lancaster said:

Very glad to see another Cialdini fan, and second the recommendation of his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. There are some interesting articles at his corporate site: Influence At Work, which I just discovered as a result of a Google inspire by Tim's post.

Larry Irons said:

The Relative Deprivation theory in social psychology also offers findings supporting the contention that the more people pay for consumer objects the more worth they see in them...in the instance of online communities you might substitute the concept of payment for that of expending energy and attention to join...just a thought...

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