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Groups and Emotional Arousal Mediate Neural Synchrony and Perceived Ritual Efficacy

frontiers in Psychology
Cho, P.S.Escoffier, N.Mao, Y.Ching, A.Green, C.Jong, J.Whitehouse, H. Yonsei University,
Underwood International College,
Songdo, South Korea

Yonsei University,
Institute of Convergence Science,
Center for Science and Engineering Applications in Social Science,
Seoul, South Korea

Department of Psychology,
National University of Singapore,

Life Sciences Institute Programme in Neurobiology and Aging,
National University of Singapore,

Department of Statistics,
National University of Singapore

MARCS Institute,
Western Sydney University,
Penrith, NSW, Australia

Wayne State School of Medicine,
Diagnostic Radiology and Psychiatry,
Detroit, MI, USA

Center for Psychology, Behavior and Achievement, Coventry University, Coventry, UK

Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK
2018 Consciousness

We present the first neurophysiological signatures showing distinctive effects of group social context and emotional arousal on cultural perceptions, such as the efficacy of religious rituals. Using a novel protocol, EEG data were simultaneously recorded from ethnic Chinese religious believers in group and individual settings as they rated the perceived efficacy of low, medium, and high arousal spirit-medium rituals presented as video clips. Neural oscillatory patterns were then analyzed for these perceptual judgements, categorized as low, medium, and high efficacy. The results revealed distinct neural signatures and behavioral patterns between the experimental conditions. Arousal levels predicted ratings of ritual efficacy.

Increased efficacy was marked by suppressed alpha and beta power, regardless of group or individual setting. In groups, efficacy ratings converged. Individual setting showed increased within-participant phase synchronization in alpha and beta bands, while group setting enhanced between-participant theta phase synchronization. This reflected group participants' orientation toward a common perspective and social coordination. These findings suggest that co-presence in groups leads to a social-tuning effect supported by between-participant theta phase synchrony. Together these neural synchrony patterns reveal how collective rituals have both individual and communal dimensions.

The emotionality of spirit-medium rituals drives individual perceptions of efficacy, while co-presence in groups signals the significance of an event and socially tunes enhanced agreement in perceptual ratings. In other words, mass gatherings may foster social cohesion without necessarily requiring group-size scaling limitations of direct face-to-face interaction. This could have implications for the scaling computability of synchrony in large groups as well as for humanistic studies in areas such as symbolic interactionism.

The article was published in: Frontiers in Psychology 9(2071).

Full article

This work was supported (in part) by the Fetzer Franklin Fund of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust.