Images from a jointly-arousing collective ritual reveal affective polarization

JosephA. Bulbulia, Dimitris Xygalatas, Uffe Schjoedt, Sabela Fondevila, Chris G. Sibley, Ivana Konvalinka

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Collective rituals are biologically ancient and culturally pervasive, yet few studies have quantified their effects on participants. We assessed two plausible models from qualitative anthropology: ritual empathy predicts affective convergence among all ritual participants irrespective of ritual role; rite-of-passage predicts emotional differences, specifically that ritual initiates will express relatively negative valence when compared with non-initiates. To evaluate model predictions, images of participants in a Spanish fire-walking ritual were extracted from video footage and assessed by nine Spanish raters for arousal and valence. Consistent with rite-of-passage predictions, we found that arousal jointly increased for all participants but that valence differed by ritual role: fire-walkers exhibited increasingly positive arousal and increasingly negative valence when compared with passengers. This result offers the first quantified evidence for rite of passage dynamics within a highly arousing collective ritual. Methodologically, we show that surprisingly simple and non-invasive data structures (rated video images) may be combined with methods from evolutionary ecology (Bayesian Generalized Linear Mixed Effects models) to clarify poorly understood dimensions of the human condition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number960
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 Bulbulia, Xygalatas, Schjoedt, Fondevila, Sibley and Konvalinka. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Evolution
  • Fire
  • Markov chain Monte Carlo
  • Multi-level
  • Religion
  • Ritual


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