View Full Version : Why Rituals Work

05-15-2013, 05:05 PM

There are real benefits to rituals, religious or otherwise


Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.


... The superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort – and improved subsequent performance. These findings are consistent with research in sport psychology demonstrating the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence.

Humans feel uncertain and anxious in a host of situations beyond laboratory experiments and sports – like charting new terrain. In the late 1940s, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski lived among the inhabitants of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. When residents went fishing in the turbulent, shark-infested waters beyond the coral reef, they performed specific rituals to invoke magical powers for their safety and protection. When they fished in the calm waters of a lagoon, they treated the fishing trip as an ordinary event and did not perform any rituals. Malinowski suggested that people are more likely to turn to rituals when they face situations where the outcome is important and uncertain and beyond their control – as when sharks are present.

Rituals in the face of losses such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship (or loss of limb from shark bite) are ubiquitous. There is such a wide variety of known mourning rituals that they can even be contradictory: crying near the dying is viewed as disruptive by Tibetan Buddhists but as a sign of respect by Catholic Latinos; Hindu rituals encourage the removal of hair during mourning, while growing hair (in the form of a beard) is the preferred ritual for Jewish males.

People perform mourning rituals in an effort to alleviate their grief – but do they work? Our research suggests they do. In one of our experiments, we asked people to recall and write about the death of a loved one or the end of a close relationship. ...


Rituals appear to be effective, but, given the wide variety of rituals documented by social scientists, do we know which types of rituals work best? In a recent study conducted in Brazil, researchers studied people who perform simpatias: formulaic rituals that are used for solving problems such as quitting smoking, curing asthma, and warding off bad luck. People perceive simpatias to be more effective depending on the number of steps involved, the repetition of procedures, and whether the steps are performed at a specified time. While more research is needed, these intriguing results suggest that the specific nature of rituals may be crucial in understanding when they work – and when they do not.

Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true. While some rituals are unlikely to be effective – knocking on wood will not bring rain – many everyday rituals make a lot of sense and are surprisingly effective.


05-15-2013, 05:15 PM
So there is nothing divine or spiritual about rituals, no God or spirits involved.

Just as I expected.

05-15-2013, 05:19 PM
Big surprise, its a mental thing.

05-15-2013, 05:31 PM
The Buddha explains that birth and aging can never be transcended by performing hopeful rituals, but only by extinguishing the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

I was actually just reading a sutta where the Buddha was explaining that if they help, then embrace them and when they no longer seem fruitful or to the benefit of participants to abandon them and I suppose seek out more beneficial endeavors.

05-15-2013, 06:45 PM
Good article OP!!

As within, so without. Our outer world is a reflection of the thoughts and beliefs inside our mind.

This book (that I've posted a couple times before) explains how people can choose to program their subconscious mind through prayer (same principle as rituals). The author is very religious and uses Bible quotes frequently to make his points.

I think the author was ahead of his time and that eventually science will confirm his ideas.


I suppose if one wanted to they could use prayer to convince their subconscious mind to believe in anything* if they wanted.

*cough, cough . . . religion

05-15-2013, 06:45 PM

05-16-2013, 03:21 AM
Explains why lots of cults are so easily able to gain new members. Cults tend to have rituals and rules for everything....

It comforts people. I have no idea why.