MALEXA research published in PLOS ONE

The Fire-Walker’s High: Affect and Physiological Responses in an Extreme Collective Ritual

How do people feel during extreme collective rituals? Despite longstanding speculation, few studies have attempted to quantify ritual experiences. Using a novel pre/post design, we quantified physiological fluctuations (heart rates) and self-reported affective states from a collective fire-walking ritual in a Mauritian Hindu community. Specifically, we compared changes in levels of happiness, fatigue, and heart rate reactivity among high-ordeal participants (fire-walkers), low-ordeal participants (non-fire-walking participants with familial bonds to fire-walkers) and spectators (unrelated/unknown to the fire-walkers). We observed that fire-walkers experienced the highest increase in heart rate and reported greater happiness post-ritual compared to low-ordeal participants and spectators. Low-ordeal participants reported increased fatigue after the ritual compared to both fire-walkers and spectators, suggesting empathetic identification effects. Thus, witnessing the ritualistic suffering of loved ones may be more exhausting than experiencing suffering oneself. The findings demonstrate that the level of ritual involvement is important for shaping affective responses to collective rituals. Enduring a ritual ordeal is associated with greater happiness, whereas observing a loved-one endure a ritual ordeal is associated with greater fatigue post-ritual.
Read the article here

Second workshop in Experimental Anthropology in Mauritius

The second workshop in Experimental Anthropology is organised by MALEXA in Mauritius in January 2014, with the participation of students and researchers from Slovakia, USA, Denmark, and Mauritius


First workshop in Experimental Anthropology in Mauritius

The first workshop in Experimental Anthropology was organised by MALEXA in Mauritius in August 2013, with the participation of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Mauritius


Why Would Performing an Extreme Religious Ritual Make People More Generous and Prosocial?

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Dimitris Xygalatas answers the question “Why Would Performing an Extreme Religious Ritual Make People More Generous and Prosocial?” for Science and Religion Today. Read the interview here

Extreme Rituals - Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas - CERC Interview Series

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Dimitris Xygalatas talks about his research in Mauritius for the CERC interview series. Watch the video here

Epiphenom on MALEXA research

A report on the study on Extreme Rituals and prosociality on the science blog Field of Science, written by Tomas Rees.
Read the article here

Article on MALEXA research in PSYPOST

An article on MALEXA study recently reported in Psychological Science has been published in the science blog PSYPOST, written by Eric W. Dolan.
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Read the article here

MALEXA research published in Psychological Science

Extreme Rituals Promote Prosociality
Extreme rituals entail excessive costs without apparent benefits, which raises an evolutionary cost problem. It is argued that such intense rituals enhance social cohesion and promote cooperative behaviors. However, direct evidence for the relation between ritual intensity and prosociality is lacking. Using economic measures of generosity and contextually relevant indicators of group identity in a real-world setting, we evaluated pro-social effects from naturally occurring rituals that varied in severity.
Read the article here

Watch a talk on MALEXA research from the HESP Symposium on Cooperation

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Dimitris Xygalatas giving a talk entitled “Extreme rituals: Field experiments on prosociality”, presenting a recent field study conducted in Mauritius by MALEXA.
The talk was delivered at the HESP Symposium on Cooperation, Conflict and the Cultural Evolution of Religion, hosted by Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada on February 15-16, 2013, Sponsored by the Human Evolutionary Studies Program at SFU and the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium at the University of British Columbia.
Click on image to see the talk.

MALEXA project on social interaction receives funding

MALEXA has received 86.000 Danish crowns in funding from the Interacting Minds Centre Seed Fund for an international project with the title Measuring Social Interaction. The project will be conducted by researchers at the universities of Aarhus (Denmark), Masaryk (Czech Republic), Victoria (New Zealand), and Queen’s University Belfast (UK). It will combine long-term participant-observation with precise physiological and behavioural measurements in order to shed light on some key aspects of social interaction by quantifying the effects of social events like public dancing or collective rituals, using cutting-edge equipment and methods in ways never before used in the field. The first part of the project will focus on traditional sega dancing and its effects on social dynamics.

Field of Science on MALEXA publication

A report on the study on the effects of religious settings on pro-sociality on the science blog Field of Science, written by Tomas Rees.
Read the article here

Rituals: The power of pain

Article by Nicholas Rainer in the national circulation Mauritian Newspaper L’Express, on MALEXA research conducted in Mauritius.
Read the article here

Effects of religious setting on cooperative behavior: a case study from Mauritius

The first results of the work supported by MALEXA have been published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behavior.
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Social scientists and folk wisdom have both claimed that there is an association between religiosity and prosocial behavior, but hard evidence for such a relationship is limited. Studies show that religiosity is correlated with self- reported prosociality; however, this relationship is not very clear when it comes to observed prosocial behaviors. Experimental studies reveal a link between religious priming and prosocial behaviors, and these effects are evident irrespective of the degree of religiosity of the participant. Building on and combining the strengths of previous field designs, I report on the results of a field experiment in Mauritius examining the effects of religious environments on cooperation in a naturalistic setting. These results were consistent with previous findings that religious cues increase cooperation. Importantly, this effect was not dependent on degrees of prior religiosity. Plausible interpretations of such effects are discussed.
Read the article here

International research project on Religion and Morality to be conducted in 15 societies, including Mauritius

The Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium is launching one of the largest scientific investigations of religion ever to be conducted. The project, entitled “The Evolution of Religion and Morality”, brings together researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines including history, psychology, anthropology, biology and neuroscience, and over 20 global institutions, including Harvard and Oxford.
Principle Investigator Edward Slingerland told
Science and Religion Today:
Historical team members will perform analyses of textual traditions in the original languages, covering a broad range of human religious experience from ancient Chinese and Near Eastern religions to contemporary Islam, indigenous religions, and spiritualist movements in 20th-century Britain, including both traditional qualitative work and novel quantitative techniques that can be employed to analyze large-scale, digital archives… By the end of the six-year period, we also hope to have assembled a massive database of religious and social history that can be used by the global research community to test hypotheses about the dynamic relations between religious, social, economic, and ecological variables. Experimental-ethnographic team members will coordinate on systematic, comparative studies employing interview-based, observational, and experimental techniques (including fMRI), targeting community samples and field sites in Vancouver, Shanghai, Denmark, New York, the United Kingdom, Fiji, mainland China, Taiwan, India, Brazil, Southern Europe, Vanuatu, Israel, New Zealand, and Mauritius.
Read the full interview here

Interacting Minds Centre launched at Aarhus University

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Aarhus University has established the Interacting Minds Centre (IMC) as a new interdisciplinary initiative.
The Centre brings together researchers from all four main academic areas in experimental studies of cognition, communication and choice. The Centre officially opened its doors on August 24 with an academic workshop.
IMC is the main academic basis for MALEXA
Visit the IMC website

UBC gains $3.8 million for major studies on religion, security, trade

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The University of British Columbia has launched major new research projects on religion and morality, terrorism and security, international relations in the digital age, free trade and sustainability, thanks to $3.8 million in new funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Of the funding, nearly $3 million will support the world’s largest study on the evolution of religion and morality. Led by UBC Faculty of Arts Prof. Edward Slingerland, the six-year project will bring together researchers from 20 global institutions, including Harvard and Oxford, to advance our understanding of religion and its role in society.

Mauritius, through MALEXA, will be one of the primary field locations for this project.
Read the full story here

Aarhus University researchers meet with Mauritian Minister of Tertiary Education

Aarhus University researchers Dimitris Xygalatas and Panos Mitkidis were received by Dr. Rajesh Jeetah, Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology. Photo from the Minister’s blog.

Aarhus University researchers Dimitris Xygalatas and Panos Mitkidis visited Dr. Rajesh Jeetah, Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology during their recent expedition to Mauritius. Read More...