Rituals as defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary is "a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony."

An example of a ritual is celebrating the completion of the Earth's revolution around the sun, or also known as the New Year holiday. Celebrating the New Year involves fireworks, kisses, and making of New Year's resolutions.

Rituals are usually based on the practices of specific cultures or religions. Most people have rituals that they follow although at times many also do not understand how it works and the reason for doing such rituals.

Typically, rituals are associated with their murky past but a recent study showed that rituals might have originated to avoid diseases and dangers when people started living together in groups and communities, the National Geographic reported. The recent study is published in the special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Rituals May Have Started To Avoid Diseases and Keep People Safe, Study
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
9–10-year-old boys of the Yao tribe in Malawi participating in circumcision and initiation rites.

Social Conformity and Rituals

Psychologist Michele Gelfand from the University of Maryland said that in places where natural disasters are common and the threat of violence and diseases are high, societies tend to have stricter social norms, lower tolerance of deviant behavior, more religious, and places a high priority on rituals.

Her research has found that people's attitude towards social conformity is based on whether they are under threat or not. For example, she and her colleagues asked the people who saw the movie Contagion when it was released in 2011 of they felt. They found that people leaving the movie theater felt more hostility to those who refuse to follow the norms.

When everyone moves in synchrony with each other or predictably perform similar tasks, it created a reassuring sense of togetherness among the members. The researchers said that it is similar to how rituals work as it helps people overcome their fear and anxiety.

According to Scientific American, rituals help people achieve their desired outcomes like reducing anxiety, boosting their confidence, alleviate their grief, and make them perform well in competitions or even make it rain.

ALSO READ: Spanish Adult Film Actor Arrested After Photographer Dies in Toad-venom Ritual

The Pandemic Has Changed Rituals

As time changes, rituals also change. Like during the pandemic, handwashing and physical distancing have become the ritual of many to avoid getting infected. 

Other practices also have become popular, like elbow bumps and air hugs. While wearing a mask has become a way to show loyalty to a social group and a scientific way of reducing the risk of disease transmission.

Although it is still too early to say if the practices humans have developed during the pandemic will eventually be repeated to the point that the reason for starting such practices will be forgotten and eventually become rituals in the process.

READ MORE: TikTok Videos Show The Intense Rituals A Woman with Severe OCD Goes Through Every Day

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