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Frequency-Intensity Matrix
Mapping activities that shape your community

by Weston Baxter

Group cohesion is often the result of group activities that can be understood in a frequency and intensity matrix.


Frequency refers to how often activities occur.


Intensity is the amount of arousal any given activity produces.


The activities that populate this space may then be all those interactions core to the relationship formed within the group. An example of this can be seen in the figure below.

Frequency-intensity matrix example

Activities tend to cluster in two parts of this diagram.


Low-frequency, high-intensity interactions (e.g., onboarding and graduation) tend to be memorable events that are at times transformative in nature as one shifts between one identity to another (e.g., student to graduate) or re-align one’s beliefs.


On the other hand, those interactions that are low-intensity but high-frequency (e.g., daily stand-up, weekly group meeting) reinforce beliefs, norms and values within a group. Understanding the role of these different types of activities can help strengthen the quantity, type and focus of various activities run for a group. 


This framework can be a useful way to visualise the key activities within groups ranging from research labs and student societies to year cohorts or even departments. Once visualised, additional activities or interactions can be conceived or existing ones improved by asking questions around the purpose and structure of each activity. Importantly, groups need not have activities in all parts of the matrix nor should there necessarily be many activities listed. It is also possible that an activity is in a different part of the matrix. The matrix is a framework to aid thinking and make more intentional activities. 

“...additional activities or interactions can be conceived or existing ones improved by asking questions around the purpose and structure of each activity.””

This matrix has been inspired by years of anthropological research into rituals showing the clustering of rituals within various groups from religions to sports. The anthropological literature offers rich theoretical, qualitative and quantitative insight into why and when particular rituals occur. Ritual itself is not used in the above text intentionally to simplify the discussion. However, ritual (or patterns associated with ritual) such as causal opacity, synchronised action, and costly signalling almost certainly will appear in many of the activities and interactions listed on the matrix.

Further reading​

  • ​​Atkinson, Q.D. & Whitehouse, H. (2011) The cultural morphospace of ritual form: Examining modes of religiosity cross-culturally. Evolution and Human Behavior. [Online] 32 (1), 50–62. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.09.002.

  • Newson, M., Bortolini, T., Buhrmester, M., da Silva, S.R., et al. (2018) Brazil’s football warriors: Social bonding and inter-group violence. Evolution and Human Behavior. [Online] 39 (6), 675–683. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.06.010.

  • Whitehouse, H. & Lanman, J.A. (2014) The Ties That Bind Us: Ritual, Fusion, and Identification. Current Anthropology. [Online] 55 (6), 674–695. Available from: doi:10.1086/678698.

  • Whitehouse, H., McQuinn, B., Buhrmester, M. & Swann, W.B. (2014) Brothers in arms: Libyan revolutionaries bond like family. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. [Online] 111 (50), 17783–17785. Available from: doi:10.1073/pnas.1416284111.

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