There is a high probability that most of us, if not all, are subconsciously attached to so-called superstitious rituals. Some of these rituals are more striking than others and some people believe in them more than others.
The reason is simple: They are seemingly meaningless gestures that are actually linked to basic human needs and have psychological and physical effects.
Various rituals involve a strategic mode of operation, they are a sequence of actions that follow each other in a predetermined manner. In this way it is possible to distinguish a common action from a ritual.
Without realizing it, traditions such as honoring precepts or the use of specific clothing for ceremonies have also influenced today’s customs, giving us a sense of belonging to a community.
Rituals have become widespread over the centuries and have become a practice in a variety of fields from sports to work and many more. Rituals are often associated with superstitious and irrational actions of an individual, but in fact they are a fundamental part of collective and institutional practices.
A good example is the ‘bell passage’ between the incoming Italian prime minister and the outgoing prime minister, where the handing over of a physical bell marks the installation of a new government.
Furthermore, in uncertain or unpredictable situations, rituals have the ability to make them more familiar. In fact, rituals are able to give confidence to the members and allay their worries.
In support of this theory, several research studies have measured and described the psychological and physiological effects of meaningless gestures associated with basic human needs. In the past, they have been shown to be fundamental to the maintenance of social order in all human civilizations. More recently, new techniques and equipment have made it possible to measure the physiological effects of rituals on people. For example, they have shown how rituals have an effect on anxiety management and heart rate variability, expanding our understanding of phenomena related to basic human needs.
For example, if a person receives an important recognition at a work meeting by wearing a specific tie, they may be led to think that it is their ‘lucky tie’. So he would wear the same tie for other important meetings as well. Another example could be stopping at a cafe near home before a business trip, a pre business trip coffee in the same cafe can become a ritual if a profitable contract is closed.
There are many other examples of different types of rituals and when they stay within those parameters they are considered unproven, though deceptively reassuring to those who practice them.
The rigidity and repetition of the formulas are basic characteristics of rituals, and this allows many people to exercise control over situations that are uncontrollable. This is why people rely on rituals when they experience situations of uncertainty and lack of control.
In the end ritual is a coping mechanism that makes us look for patterns and statistical regularities everywhere around us. As a result, rituals trick our brains into thinking we are drawing on past experiences and so we become more efficient and less anxious.
Written by Riccardo Pandini.
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