The Effects of Collective Ritual on Affect, Unity, and Pro-Sociality: A Naturalistic Study
Anthropologists have long speculated that collective group rituals endure due to their functional capacity to foster co-operation and cohesion within groups and thus help societies to overcome free-rider problems. Recently, experimental studies have provided empirical data to support this hypothesis and have suggested that synchronous group movement as a key element in this process. Further more, recent field studies have suggested that the sacred values surrounding rituals may mediate the synchrony/pro-sociality relationship. The current study aims to further explore the psychological affects of group ritual in terms of positive affect, perceptions of group unity, and pro-sociality in naturalistic settings. Additionally the current study extrapolates out physical arousal and religiosity as important elements of ritual as well as synchronous movement. Our results suggest that the psychological modulations of positive affect, perceived group unity, and pro-sociality in rituals are primarily due to the meaning context within which they are performed. Results have also shown that when used together in a religious context, rituals that use high levels of synchrony and physicality are associated with higher levels of positive affect and co-operation within groups. These findings may help to explain the expansion of charismatic religions in those regions of the world where there are lower levels of security. They also suggest that past laboratory studies of ritual have been limited due to their inability to assess the meaning contexts that may be driving the effects found. Further research is required to assess the rates of endurance of these psychological affects outside of ritualistic settings and also the generalisation of pro-sociality to outgroups. Also, future development of more accurate measures of variables for field use will provide additional strength and reliability within this field.