Collective rituals are ubiquitous and resilient features of all known human cultures. They are also functionally opaque, costly, and sometimes dangerous. Social scientists have speculated that collective rituals generate benefits in excess of their costs by reinforcing social bonding and group solidarity, yet quantitative evidence for these conjectures is scarce. Our recent study measured the physiological effects of a highly arousing Spanish fire-walking ritual, revealing shared patterns in heart-rate dynamics between participants and related spectators. We briefly describe our results, and consider their implications.
I Konvalinka, D Xygalatas, J Bulbulia, U Schjødt, EM Jegindø, S Wallot, Orden G Van, A Roepstorff. Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2011; 108: 8514- 9.
PMID: 21536887 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016955