Ominous moods may improve ritual performance

black chess knightTo the uninitiated, religious ritual seems like frivolous play-acting. Priests and acolytes follow obscure rules and manipulate symbolic objects, similar to team sports like soccer, or board games like Risk. This connection isn’t meant to trivialize the intense subjective meaning of religious rites, but only to point out that both ritual and play are elaborate, seemingly superfluous pastimes that consume enormous amounts of otherwise productive energy. Of what use are either? Yvan Russell, Fernand Gobet, and Harvey Whitehouse hypothesize that the connection between ritual and games is quite significant. Skills acquired by performing rites and playing games should carry over into real world abilities. Their study suggests that the more disturbing a performer’s mood is, the more effective that transference will be.

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