|dc.description.abstract||Rituals are known to bring groups of people together, but it is not clear what creates this bonding effect. Two prominent features of rituals are (1) they often involve pain or unpleasant experiences; and (2) they are often “causally opaque”; there is no shared understanding of the mechanism by which the ritualized behaviour exerts its effects. The current study represents the first experimental research examining how pain and causal opacity combine to produce group bonding. Participants engaged in a laboratory “ritual” that involved submersing their hands in cold (painful) water, or in tepid water. Causal opacity was manipulated independently, with half of the participants given an account of the functional reasons for performing the ritual, and half not. Afterwards, the group members’ physical proximity to each other was measured, as well as group fusion, identification, and co-operation. The latter measures were also completed one week later.
Results revealed that group bonding depended on both causal opacity and pain. When the purpose of the task was transparent, participants sat closer together and were perceived to be more fused in the pain condition. When the purpose of the task was opaque, participants reported feeling more fused in the control condition than in the pain condition. These findings suggest that when they are in pain, people search for a reason why. This attribution becomes shared knowledge that contributes to group identity and fusion.
This has implications for real world situations in which pain is used as social glue (e.g., initiation rituals), suggesting that if participants believe they are suffering pointlessly, they may not experience group bonding effects.||