Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual

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  • Ivana Konvalinka
  • Dimitris Xygalatas
  • Joseph Bulbulia
  • Uffe Schjødt
  • Else Marie Jegindø
  • Sebastian Wallot
  • Guy Van Orden
  • Andreas Roepstorff

Collective rituals are present in all known societies, but their function is a matter of long-standing debates. Field observations suggest that they may enhance social cohesion and that their effects are not limited to those actively performing but affect the audience as well. Here we show physiological effects of synchronized arousal in a Spanish fire-walking ritual, between active participants and related spectators, but not participants and other members of the audience. We assessed arousal by heart rate dynamics and applied nonlinear mathematical analysis to heart rate data obtained from 38 participants. We compared synchronized arousal between fire-walkers and spectators. For this comparison, we used recurrence quantification analysis on individual data and cross-recurrence quantification analysis on pairs of participants' data. These methods identified fine-grained commonalities of arousal during the 30-min ritual between firewalkers and related spectators but not unrelated spectators. This indicates that the mediating mechanism may be informational, because participants and related observers had very different bodily behavior. This study demonstrates that a collective ritual may evoke synchronized arousal over time between active participants and bystanders. It links field observations to a physiological basis and offers a unique approach for the quantification of social effects on human physiology during real-world interactions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)
Issue number20
Pages (from-to)8514-8519
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 17.05.2011
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Psychology - Collective effervescence, Mirroring, Recurrence plots, Social anthropology, Social interaction