Evaluating Rituals

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 778
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6083.778-b

Rituals—protocols designed to make a problem go away or to bring about a favorable outcome—are widely used across cultures yet causally inexplicable within the mechanistic schema of the physical world. Legare and Souza collected judgments of ritual effectiveness from patrons of public health centers in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. They found, not surprisingly, that individuals who had themselves used rituals (referred to as simpatias) reported a stronger belief in their effectiveness. They also found, via experimental manipulation of scenario simpatias, that three characteristics contributed significantly to these judgments: (i) the number of steps in the protocol to be performed; (ii) the repetition of one or more steps in the ritual; and (iii) the inclusion of religious icons. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the proposal that rituals activate an intuitive system of causal belief.

Cognition 124, 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.004 (2012).

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