Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a Fire-Walking Ritual

There is a Gaelic saying that “Envy splits rocks”……., and in proof of this the following story is told. An industrious, careful man sold more cheese than his neighbours, and was much envied when seen, as he frequently was, on his way to market with a cheese and a bag on his back. One day, instead of a cheese, he put a small mill-stone in the bag. His neighbours, filled with envy, saw him jogging along as usual to market, and stood in their doors looking after him and making remarks. On reaching the market and opening the bag he found the mill-stone broken in two, a certain proof of the power of envy and of the truth embodied in the proverb.

 The source below has a close relationship with this Scottish tale of  hazards associated with cheese production. But in terms of its measuring equipment it is using updated tools rather than the old stone bag of yore.
Abstract: Collective rituals are present in all known societies, but their function is a matter of long-standing debates. Field observations suggest that they may enhance social cohesion and that their effects are not limited to those actively performing but affect the audience as well. Here we show physiological effects of synchronized arousal in a Spanish fire-walking ritual, between active participants and related spectators, but not participants and other members of the audience. We assessed arousal by heart rate dynamics and applied nonlinear mathematical analysis to heart rate data obtained from 38 participants. We compared synchronized arousal between fire-walkers and spectators. For this comparison, we used recurrence quantification analysis on individual data and cross-recurrence quantification analysis on pairs of participants’ data. These methods identified fine-grained commonalities of arousal during the 30-min ritual between fire-walkers and related spectators but not unrelated spectators. This indicates that the mediating mechanism may be informational, because participants and related observers had very different bodily behavior. This study demonstrates that a collective ritual may evoke synchronized arousal over time between active participants and bystanders. It links field observations to a physiological basis and offers a unique approach for the quantification of social effects on human physiology during real-world interactions.
J.G. Campbell, Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, 1902.
Ivana Konvalinkaa, Dimitris Xygalatas, Joseph Bulbulia, Uffe Schjødt, Else-Marie Jegindø, Sebastian Wallot, Guy Van Orden, and Andreas Roepstorff. Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual. PNAS, May 17, 2011 vol. 108 no. 20 8514-8519, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016955108

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