Publication details

The evolution of human ritual behavior as a cooperative signaling platform

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LANG Martin KUNDT Radek

Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Religion, Brain & Behavior
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords African hominins; collective ritual; complex signaling systems; cooperative communication; mutualistic cooperation; neurocognitive mechanisms; pleistocene
Description Collective ritual is virtually omnipresent across past and present human cultures and is thought to play an essential role in facilitating cooperation, yet little is known about its evolution in the hominin lineage. We examine whether collective ritual could have evolved as a complex signaling system facilitating mutualistic cooperation under socio-ecological pressures in the Pleistocene. Specifically, we identify similarity, coalitional, and commitment signals as the building blocks of the contemporary signaling systems in hunter-gatherers and trace the presence of these signals in non-human primates and the hominin archaeological and paleoanthropological record. Next, we establish the underlying cognitive mechanisms facilitating these signals and review the evidence of the earliest presence of these mechanisms as well as evidence for selective pressures on the evolution of cooperative communication. The synthesis of these streams of evidence suggests that ritualized cooperative signals might have first evolved in the Early Pleistocene in the form of similarity signals, whereas coalitional and commitment signals would start appearing in the early and late Middle Pleistocene until, eventually, coalescing into a signaling system. By the arrival of H. sapiens, it is possible that collective ritual as a staged and repetitively performed signaling act constituted an important adaptation facilitating collective action.
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