Ritual signaling and social hierarchy

Evolutionary perspectives suggest that people can utilize collective rituals to communicate their commitment to the community and its values. In contrast to previous research, which has focused on the individual and collective levels of ritual signaling, the research team studied the influence of socio-environmental factors on the quality of ritual signaling in a field experiment in Mauritius.

23 Aug 2021

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In the context of the Tamil collective ritual Thaipusam Kavadi, the researchers found that position in social hierarchy systematically influences how people ritually signal. Low-status people mostly engaged in signaling with bodily costs (for example, the number of piercings), while high-status people signaled by carrying larger kavadis (small altars carried in the procession) implying financial rather than somatic costs. The results show that social hierarchies exact unequal requirements on ritual participants, who in turn modify their signaling strategies accordingly.

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