Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Rituals and emotion

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Rituals and emotion:
How do rituals affect our emotional lives

Overview[edit | edit source]

The aim of this chapter is to examine how the belief and practice of rituals influence an individual’s emotional well-being. Facets such as an individual’s emotional reaction and mood, as well as their judgments on life satisfaction and fulfilment are evaluated on the basis that that all facets compile an individual’s emotional life, and by extension their life in general. Cognitive theories and models were employed in order to help explain the influence that ritualistic behaviour imposes. This chapter draws upon Brooke’s academic, yet personal narrative that discussed how displaying ritualistic behaviour tendencies affect emotional well-being. Attention will focus on religious and superstitious rituals; specifically the Catholic and Muslin[spelling?] faith for popularity reasons, as well as competitive sport-related superstitions, since they act as a sufficient demonstration of ritualistic behaviour whilst also remaining actively connected to one’s emotionality. The compulsive behaviours exhibited by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder sufferers have also been included, and accepted as rituals on the basis of shared similarities regarding repetition, perceived importance and the affiliation to individual emotionality.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

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Rituals[edit | edit source]

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus (2016) definition of ritual is ‘a series of activities involving gestures, words and objects performed according to a specific sequence within an isolated or purposeful environment’. Ritual characteristics involve multiple different facets, such as formalism, which entails expressions to be rigid and organised, [grammar?] this means that the delivery is more concerned with style and presentation, rather than actual content (Bell, 1997). Rituals also reinforce traditional forms of social hierarchy and authority, as they are generally concerned with repeating historical precedents (Bell, 1997). The differences between formalism to traditionalism are important to note, as traditionalism is not always formal or rigid, however this does not imply that there is room for any variance between sequences, as Bell (1997) states that careful choreography is displayed when striving for timeless repetition. This repetition is often rule-governed, typically by some form of symbolism representing supernatural being, higher powers, important objects or concepts etc[factual?].

Compulsions[edit | edit source]

In the context of psychopathology, compulsions refer to the repetitive behaviours performed in order to reduce anxiety (APA, 1994; Evans et al., 1994), [grammar?] examples include checking or washing, arranging objects and performing particular tasks until they satisfy a subjective, sensory-perceptual criteria as being perfect (Leckman, Walker, Goodman, Pauls & Cohen, 1994; Evans et al., 1997). Theorists such as Leonard (1990), Marks (1987), and King and Noshpitz (1991) all hypothesise that ritualistic and compulsive-like behaviour may be observed in children’s games such as; hopscotch or hide & seek, as well as rhymes similar to “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” are common activities that echo the ritualism and magical thinking that occurs within OCD. Ritualisation is especially prevalent within childhood, observed during transitional periods such as meal or bath time, and even more so when transitions are supplemented by fears and anxieties, common examples include a fear of the dark that many children experience during bedtime (Garber, Garber & Spizman, 1993; Evans et al., 1997). It may be the pairing of these ritualistic behaviour responses to the fear and anxiety experienced that reinforce and strengthen compulsive tendencies.

Emotional Life and Wellbeing[edit | edit source]

The study of individual emotionality is a subjective and idiosyncratic field, as is comprises the scientific analysis of how people evaluate their life based on their emotional reactions to events, their moods, and the judgements they form about life satisfaction, fulfilment and attitudes concerning domains such as marriage or work (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003). Individuals’ moods, emotions and self-evaluative judgements fluctuate overtime; therefore researchers examine both fluctuations and the longer-term mean level differences that exist between individuals and societies (Andrews & Withey, 1976; Lucus et al., 1996; Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003). Although it is important to note that fluctuations are considered to be very minor when compared to long-term evaluations, which remain reasonably stable over time because they have the ability to rebound after major life events, therefore evaluations are often strongly correlated with stable personality traits (Diener et al., 1999; Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003). Although many personality traits have been linked with individual emotional well-being (see DeNeve & Cooper, 1998), [grammar?] majority of the theoretical and empirical work within this field has focused on significant correlations between emotional life and wellbeing, and traits of extraversion or neuroticism (Costa & McCrae, 1980; Tellegen, 1985; Headey & Wearing, 1992; Watson & Clark, 1992; Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2003).

Religious Rituals[edit | edit source]

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Catholic[edit | edit source]

The most practical and efficient way of measuring what the affects[grammar?] are of religious rituals on emotional well-being is to examine different aspects of one’s emotionality. Therefore, focus remains on marital satisfaction for the purpose of this book chapter, as marriage is a sufficient facet of measuring emotional well-being while also remaining deeply connected to one’s religiosity. Fiese and Tomcho’s (2001) study of Catholic spouses defined religious rituals as repetitive patterned interactions that are practiced in a variety of different settings. These settings range from daily routine activities, such as dinnertime, to more stylized practises linked with religious observances, such as a wedding or marriage (Wolin & Bennett, 1984; Fiese & Tomcho, 2001). Often thought of as prolegomenous situations, these settings act as the framework when constructing the two main dimensions of family rituals; family routines and routine meanings (Fiese & Tomcho, 2001). According to Fiese & Tomcho (2001), family routines involve the assignment of roles and the typical routine practises, whereas routine meaning involves the expectations for attendance, symbolic significance of the act, and a commitment to ensure a continuation of practises for future generations. Results obtained by Fiese & Tomcho (2001) confirmed their hypothesis that the symbolic meaning associated with religious holiday rituals was related to marital satisfaction within both males and females, further concluding that reports of the roles and routines assigned, as well as the meaning ascribed to religious holiday rituals controlled for religious importance and the number of years married. Additional investigations (Fises & Tomcho, 2001) examined whether a wife’s marital satisfaction was related to the amount of meaning that her husband credited to their religious holiday rituals, [grammar?] results revealed that marital satisfaction was related to a husband’s report of family ritual meaning. Interestingly, the same pattern did not occur for husband marital satisfaction indicating that wives associate their emotional well-being to marital satisfaction more so then[spelling?] husbands[grammar?].

Muslim[edit | edit source]

Focus continues to highlight how marital satisfaction acts as an appropriate way to measure one’s emotional well-being, as further studies conducted by Suhail & Chaudhry (2004) looked to examine the correlation between marital satisfaction, religiosity and emotional well-being, measured via individual perceived happiness. The aggregate score of two questions elicited an overall marital satisfaction score: (a) my life partner is my best friend, and (b) If reborn, I will marry the same person (Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004). Researchers further developed a ‘religiosity scale’ in order to measure the strength of religious affiliation within Muslims. Items measuring a strong Muslim belief includs[spelling?]; the belief in one God, life hereafter, hell and heaven, and the Prophet Mohammed, whereas the items measuring the a strength of Islamic practice include saying prayers, religious fasting, reciting the Holy Quran, pilgrimage, charity and following the rule of Islam in everyday life activities (Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004). Results revealed that 7 in 10 married couples rated themselves as happy, suggesting that marriage offers new life roles, additional rewards, and sources of identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy (Crosby, 1987; Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004), particularly within societies where Islam is the dominant faith a supportive and intimate marital relationship is especially important, as couples heavily depend on each other for dealing with family affairs (Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004). Women especially, as marriage is like a security bond, and marital integrity can guarantee them respect from their society (Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004). Furthermore, divorce or separation may inflict significant emotional suffering according to the results obtained by Suhail & Chaudhry (2004) that revealed that the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness occurred among those who were separated or divorced. These findings support the results collected by earlier studies such as Inglehart (1990), who determine that happiness and life satisfaction are essentially one’s emotional well-being, and that improvement occurs when a greater strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services is displayed. It is theorised that the sense of meaning and purpose many people derive from this emotional support may act as a buffer against negative emotions (Suhail & Chaudhry, 2004).

Superstitious Rituals[edit | edit source]

A general definition of superstitious behavioural patterns comes from Jahoda (1969), stating a belief that one’s fate is in the hands of unknown external powers; governed by forces which one has no control. However, for the purpose of this chapter attention will remain on competition and sport specific superstitious behavioural and ritualistic patterns, since further empirical study within this field is needed, prompted by Schippers & Van Lange (2006) results to find that four in five professional athletes mentioned at least one superstitious ritual before a contest. Defined by Womack (1992), superstitious behaviour consists of repetitive, formal, sequential actions distinct from technical performance, to which athletes believe are powerful in controlling luck or other external events. Interestingly, Swann et al., (2012) revealed that the level or importance of competition might interact with the athletic skills in an attempt to regulate anxiety or flow and therefore, the intensity of superstitious behaviours could be determined by the perceived ratio of one’s skills level to the challenge presented. If anxiety regulation is successful and performance deemed satisfactory, then superstitious mechanisms may be credited to a placebo effect (Brevers et al., 2011; Domotor, Ruinz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016). For example, an elite athlete expects to be in control after performing a superstitious act; this performance of the act triggers a subjective sense of control that in turn, influences the athletic performance (Brevers et al., 2011; Domotor, Ruinz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016). Albeit, there are multiple contributing factors that influence the severity of superstition, and the specific ritualistic behaviour sequences performed[grammar?]. Cultural values are ascribed to be significant (Mocan & Pogorelavoa, 2014; Domotor, Ruinz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016), as they interact with individual’s level of education in determining the openness towards resorting to superstitious acts. Gender differences is also another significant variable in the nature of superstitious rituals, as findings collected by Gregory & Petrie (1972) revealed that female superstitions were related to team cheers, uniforms, accessories and pre-game functions, whilst male superstitions were more closely related to the specifics of the practiced sport. A significant correlation between religion and superstitious behaviour has also been disclosed (Buhrmann & Saugg, 1983; Burke et al., 2006), suggesting that the use of superstitions with sport and religious rituals could be complementary of one another, or share similar practices. Multiple theories surrounding why athletes succumb to exhibiting superstitious rituals are put forward, particularly concerning perceived locus of control [LoC]. In a study conducted by Ofori et al (2012) that looked at examining Ghanaian footballers,[grammar?] found that players who believed events occur due to their own skills and abilities partake in far less superstitious rituals than players with an external LoC do. Therefore an athlete who perceives a contest as uncontrollable tends to credit more control to the external factors, which further prompts them to engage in superstitious behaviours (Domotor, Ruiz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016). However, Irwin (1994) stated that further research in this area in needed, since theoretically an internal LoC should be negatively linked to superstitious behaviour as an attempt to deal with perceived uncontrollability in both sport and life.

Compulsions[edit | edit source]

The ritualistic compulsions that exist within Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and the anxiety associated with these behaviour sequences have the ability to stop an individual’s functioning, taking away their life as they knew it and replacing it with one filled of misery and tension. The compulsions exhibited are behavioural reactions that temporarily reduce anxiety, since they function to manage the negative emotions tied to obsessions (Brooke, 2010). Obsessions the continual reappearance of intrusive thoughts or images that cause panic or doubt. While everybody experiences intrusive thinking, the OCD sufferer cogitates specific and persistent repetitive thoughts (Penzel, 2000, p.1; Brookes; 2010). Compulsions are also specific to the individual exhibiting them, although there are common sequences of ritualistic behavioural patterns, such as cleaning or picking, they stem from diacritic thoughts. As stated by Brookes (2010), some people experience mental stress relative to being imperfect or immoral; others envision themselves engaging in unwanted or violent behaviour, still others feel concerned when they are faced with a lack of symmetry or contamination. As sufferers ruminate over obsessions, their compulsions are employed more frequently, for the purpose of reducing anxiety, and therefore become an integrated or ritualised part of daily life (Brookes, 2010). Many patients suffering with OCD report that their compulsions are typically carried out within the safety of their own home, on account of the perceived pressure to ‘put on a show’ when in social situations (Brookes, 2010), [grammar?] commonly referred to examples include a depressant telling their friends or family that they are ‘fine’, even though they may be feeling a kind of morose ambience. Theorists (Brookes, 2010) explain this phenomenon to be the understanding that public knowledge of sufferers’ compulsions will cause a perceived socially hazardous incident. Deriving from Goffman’s (1959; 1963; 1967) studies to indicate that an individual’s social performance is judged by others to be either in line or out of line with culturally expected behaviours, and deviants from the expected social performance are faced with stigmatisation, and spoiling their social reputation and identity, therefore hiding one’s peculiar behavioural sequences is of paramount importance. Treatment of OCD is another avenue for emotional well-being to be disrupted, as many suffers[spelling?] report that exposure treatment causes more anxiety as being forced to feel stress results in feelings of misery, that is until habituation occurs as they adapt to discomfort and grow tired of responding (Brookes, 2010). Many may argue that exposure treatment is sadistic, and that the use of medications is more relevant since OCD is an anxiety disorder, it is the result of an imbalance of serotonin within the brain and therefore can be managed by medications (Brooke, 2010; Hyman & Dufrene, 2008; Hyman & Pedrick, 2005). However, severe side effects of these medications are common, and in turn, create for an even greater damaged emotional and physical well-being[factual?].

Explanations for Emotional Effects[edit | edit source]

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Theories of Religious Rituals[edit | edit source]

Yelle’s (2006) meta-analysis found that anthropologists, psychologists, and even some historians of religion apply the theories and findings of cognitive science to explain such important religious phenomena as the judgement concerning the regularity of religious rituals. Theorists argue that particular cross-cultural practises contribute to the memorability and transmission of such rituals, and the significant traditions that they illustrate (Yelle, 2006). However, the particular behavioural sequences that make up a ritual may also contribute towards the way that rituals persuade believers, proposed by Whitehouse (2004), as culture in general but more specifically religion, is far from being plastic since there are material constraints on what people think or do, and some of the most significant constraints derive from the regularities of human cognition, and well as different historical or cultural periods. Further suggestions of Whitehouse (2000, 2004) involve the distinction between two fundamental modes of transmission; imagistic and doctrinal. The Imagistic mode involves the use of visual images[for example?], however is characterised by the symbolic association of these images, whereas the doctrinal mode is characterised by its dependence on the elaboration of a spoken systematic body of doctrine[for example?] (Whitehouse, 2004; Yelle, 2006). However, it is important to recognise that these two modes are not able to capture the full range and complexity of all religions and their systematic practises (Yelle, 2006), this is why Lawson and McCauley (1990) stated a theory of ritual competence, acknowledging that there are motivational reasons behind the display of some religious rituals indicating that sensory pageantry helps to persuade individuals that they have undergone the desirable fundamental changes relevant to their specific faith, either Catholic or Muslin applicable to this book chapter.

Theories of Superstitious Rituals[edit | edit source]

According to Brevers at al. (2011), sporting competitions are characterized by stable (i.e. skill level) and unstable (i.e. refereeing) variables, therefore superstitious behavioural patterns stem from the wish to control, and to reduce psychological distress. Malilowski’s (1979) ‘Gap Theory’ supports this idea, claiming that the purpose of superstitious ritualistic behaviour is to fill the ‘gap of the unknown’ and reduce anxiety, creating a placebo effect by programming of the mind for enhanced performances via strong subjective beliefs mirroring objective beliefs, resulting in an increased self-efficacy and confidence boost. However, a dissonance between ‘true self’ and ‘ideal self’ exists among many athletes in the sense that they typically do not see themselves as superstitious despite reporting superstitious behaviours (Domotor, Reuiz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016). Early works by Skinner (1948) attribute this phenomenon to the casual relationships that may surface between two elements by chance, parallels may be observed through his classical experiments involving pigeons that had random access to food attempted to recreate the circumstances in which the food was obtained and behaved accordingly. In sports competitions, athletes who perform specific behavioural sequences may be followed by a profitable outcome, this is their reward, which is then irrationally linked to the behavioural sequences and reinforced if similar outcomes continue (Domotor, Reuiz-Barquin & Szabo, 2016).

Theories of Compulsive Rituals[edit | edit source]

According to Goffman’s (1959) Impression Management theory, individuals partake in ritualized behaviour within public contexts, while he also accounts for the ‘back stage’; routines are the scripted behaviours to occur within social interactions. In terms of OCD however, rituals are the private patterns of behaviour such as checking, counting, tapping, or ruminating that are socially embarrassing, and hiding one’s intramural anxiety or panic when in contact with irrational fears is referred to as a performance (Brookes, 2010), therefore Goffman’s (1959, 1963) work helps to see these performances as efforts to behave in a socially accepted way, as we can begin to observe how these compulsions capitalise on the shameful and distressing nature of irrational thinking, and how coping mechanisms morph into rituals that are reinforced by keeping obsession and compulsions hidden from others[for example?].

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

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Religious Rituals[edit | edit source]

Conclusive of the segment examining the affects[spelling?] that religious rituals have on individuals’ emotional wellbeing and emotional life, found that expectantly, marriage is a major influencing factor as it may involve numerous differing rituals that are all deeply connected to one’s religious beliefs and customs[Rewrite to improve clarity]. As observed within Fiese & Tomcho (2001) study to indicate that figurative value associated with religious holiday rituals, yet another facet that entails varying symbolic rituals across a wide range of different religions, was related to marital satisfaction within both men and women. Furthermore, Fiese and Tomcho (2001) were able to conclude that reports of the roles and routines assigned to daily married life, in addition to the meaning imputed to religious holiday rituals controlled for religious importance and the number of years married. In other words, the correlations between marriage ritualistic activity and the display of religious holiday rituals accounts for the longevity of one’s marriage, which in turn may also be attributed to their emotional well-being. Since a positive emotional well-being if[spelling?] often associated with happiness, this book chapter referred to Suhail & Chaudhry’s (2004) study examining the correlations between marital satisfaction, religiosity and emotional welling{{s]] measure via one’s reported happiness, which found that strong affiliations with religious items, specifically Muslim (i.e. belief in one god, the hereafter, heaven and hell, and the prophet Mohammed), and the reported regularity of participating in religious practises (i.e. prayers, religious fasting, reciting the Holy Quran, pilgrimage, charity and honesty) resulted in new roles offered by marriage being reinforced by rewards, and sources of identity and self-esteem. Therefore, in accordance with Inglehart’s (1990) study of culture shifts within advanced industrial societies, it may be presumed that one’s emotional well-being improves with a greater strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services.

Superstitious Rituals[edit | edit source]

Despite the field of sport and competition specific superstitious behaviour being relatively overlooked, research revealed that much of the data concerning the cognitive reasons explaining why athletes display ritualistic behaviour patterns indicates that it is a coping mechanism implemented either consciously or unconsciously, to control for the anxiety one feels when doubting their athletic skill in comparison to uncontrollable forces (i.e. referees, quality of opponents etc.). The gap theory proposed by Malilowki (1979) outlines the specifics of this manifestation, whilst also further explaining the theorised placebo effect that occurs when expectations for enhanced performances via compelling subjective beliefs mirroring objective beliefs, resulting in heightened self-efficacy and confidence, and therefore reinforcing ritualistic behaviour before performance. This uncontrollable element is what theorists associate with locus of control, as athletes credit external factors as having a greater control when determining an outcome. Explanations for the discrepancy evident within athletes reporting that they are not superstitious, however continue to partake in ritualistic superstitions may be due to the level of education said athlete has received, and their openness towards acknowledgement of superstitions. Other explanations may be less direct, in reference to Skinners[grammar?] (1948) work regarding the element of chance and casual relationships, as successful outcomes following superstitious behaviour act as a reinforcer.

Compulsive Rituals[edit | edit source]

According to the research presented within this book chapter, compulsions are the behavioral sequences following an obsession. Their primary function is to temporarily improve emotional wellbeing by reducing anxiety and managing the adverse emotions that are tied to specific obsessions, this temporary relief of tension acts as a reward and therefore encouragement to ruminate over obsessions, which then perpetuates and employs compulsions more frequently until they are an integrated and ritualized part of one’s daily life. This is problematic as majority of OCD patients report high levels of embarrassment when they uncontrollably partake in compulsive behavior outside the safety of their own privacy. Furthermore, as stated by Brookes (2010), if sufferers are able to control themselves and not display compulsive tendencies in public then they report extreme distress, on account of the perceived pressure to ‘put on a show’ when in social situations, due to the anticipation that public knowledge of the sufferers compulsions will cause a socially threatening incident. Theorised by Goffman (1959, 1963 & 1967) that an individual’s social performance is evaluated by others to be either in line or out of line with culturally expected behaviours, and deviants from the expected social norm are typically faced with stigmatization and spoiling their social reputation and identity, therefore sufferers place utmost important upon hiding their compulsive behavioural sequences, which inturn creates for stress, shame and a negative self-identity. However, unfortunately the treatment often implemented also causes great emotional distress, as the medications prescribed have severe emotional and physical side effects. Alternatively, exposure treatment is often employed and favoured, however it is an agent for increased anxiety on the basis that being forced to feel stressed results in feelings of misery, that is until habituation occurs as the mind adapts to discomfort and grows tired of responding.

References[edit | edit source]

Merriam-Webster. (2016). Retrieved 13 October 2016, from

Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. (2003). Personality, Culture, and Subjective Well-Being: Emotional and Cognitive Evaluations of Life. Annual Review Of Psychology, 54(1), 403-425.

Evans, D., Leckman, J., Carter, A., Reznick, J., Henshaw, D., King, R., & Pauls, D. (1997). Ritual, Habit, and Perfectionism: The Prevalence and Development of Compulsive-Like Behavior in Normal Young Children. Child Development, 68(1), 58.

Fiese, B. & Tomcho, T. (2001). Finding meaning in religious practices: The relation between religious holiday rituals and marital satisfaction. Journal Of Family Psychology, 15(4), 597-609.


Kalyango Jr, Y., Myssayeva, K., & Mohammed, A. (2015). Visual Representation of Shiite Muslim Mourning Rituals. Visual Communication Quarterly, 22(3), 146-159.

Wright, P. B., & Erdal, K. J. (2008). Sport Superstition as a Function of Skill Level and Task Difficulty. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 31(2), 187-199. Leary, M. & Kowalski, R. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and two-component model. Psychological Bulletin, 107(1), 34-47.

Suhail, K., & Chaudhry, H. R. (2004). PREDICTORS OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING IN AN EASTERN MUSLIM CULTURE. Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23(3), 359-376.