Extreme rituals in the lab: Effect of excitation on helping behaviour

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Year of publication 2015
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Paper presents the results of a recent controlled experiment which examined the differential effects of ritual arousal on social behaviour. Previous research has examined specific aspects commonly found in collective rituals that might modulate group attitudes and behaviours (i.e., inter-personal motor synchrony: Valdesolo & DeSteno, 2011; Reddish et al., 2013; Wiltermuth, 2012). We propose that a common mechanism related to physiological arousal might explain these contrasting effects. A ritual task was used designed to induce autonomic arousal stripped of any social, semantic, or emotional associations (high and low intensity body movements involving repetition, redundancy, and no obvious end-goal), followed by the administration of either prosocial or antisocial video game primes and finally by a helping task to examine the effects of individual ritual arousal and its interaction with contextual cues on ritual prosociality. This study makes a novel conceptual contribution to the literature on social functions of human rituals investigating the link between this deep-rooted behavioural propensity of our species and ingroup cooperation/cohesion as well as outgroup competition/hostility. It is the first study assessing in laboratory conditions and through behavioural measures in one design diametrically opposite effects of the ritual arousal on social behaviour depending on the prime it is coupled with.
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