Publication details

Effects of Extreme Ritual Practices on Psychophysiological Well-Being

Authors

XYGALATAS Dimitrios KHAN Sammyh LANG Martin KUNDT Radek KUNDTOVÁ KLOCOVÁ Eva KRÁTKÝ Jan SHAVER John Hayward

Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Current Anthropology
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Web https://www-journals-uchicago-edu.ezproxy.lib.uconn.edu/doi/full/10.1086/705665
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/705665
Keywords RELIGIOUS ATTENDANCE; SIGNALING THEORY; HEALTH; DEPRESSION; MEDICINE; STRESS; SPIRITUALITY; INDEX; PAIN
Description Extreme ritual practices involving pain and suffering pose significant risks such as injury, trauma, or infection. Nonetheless, they are performed by millions of people around the world and are often culturally prescribed remedies for a variety of maladies, and especially those related to mental health. What is the actual impact of these practices on health? Combining ethnographic observations and psychophysiological monitoring, we investigated outcomes of participation in one of the world’s most extreme rituals, involving bodily mutilation and prolonged suffering. Performance of this physically demanding ordeal had no detrimental effects on physiological health and was associated with subjective health improvements, and these improvements were greater for those who engaged in more intense forms of participation. Moreover, individuals who experienced health problems and/or were of low socioeconomic status sought more painful levels of engagement. We suggest two potential mechanisms for these effects: a bottom-up process triggered by neurological responses to pain and a top-down process related to increased social support and self-enhancement. These mechanisms may buffer stress-induced pressures and positively affect quality of life. Our results stress the importance of traditional cultural practices for coping with adversity, especially in contexts where psychiatric or other medical interventions are not widely available.
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