Why People Need Rituals, Especially in Times of Uncertainty

Dimitris Xygalatas: Rituals are highly structured. They require rigidity, and must always be performed the “right” way. And they involve repetition: The same actions are done again and again. In other words, they are predictable. So even if they have no direct influence over the physical world, rituals provide a sense of control by imposing order on the chaos of everyday life. It is of little importance whether this sense of control is illusory. What matters is that it is an efficient way of relieving anxiety. This is what we found in two soon-to-be-published studies. In Mauritius, we saw that Hindus experienced lower anxiety after they performed temple rituals, which we measured using heart rate monitors. And in the U.S., we found that Jewish students who attended more group rituals had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

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