Effects of extreme ritual on physiological and psychological health



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Extreme rituals that involve bodily mutilation entail significant physiological (e.g., injury, infection) and psychological (e.g., distress, trauma) risks, yet practitioners often claim that they convey health benefits. Tackling the evolutionary puzzle of extreme rituals and their potential fitness benefits, this talk will report the results from a collaborative investigation of health outcomes of participation in the Kavadi performed by Tamils in Mauritius. Combining ethnographic observations and psychophysiological measurements over a two-month period, we monitored physiological responses of ritual participants and a control group and obtained assessments of perceived health and quality of life. Compared to a control group, performance of this demanding ordeal had no detrimental effects on physiological health but was associated with improvements in psychological well-being. Furthermore, individuals who reported chronic health problems sought more painful levels of engagement which were associated with greater improvements in psychological well-being. We suggest several bottom-up and top-down mechanisms facilitating these effects including self-signaling (i.e., effects of past experience in undertaking pain on the future health self-evaluation) and placebo (i.e., effects of cultural expectations in the ritual healing power).
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