Rituals pose a cognitive paradox: although widely used to treat problems, rituals are causally opaque (i.e., they lack a causal explanation for their effects). How is the efficacy of ritual action evaluated in the absence of causal information? To examine this question using ecologically valid content, three studies (N=162) were conducted in Brazil, a cultural context in which rituals called simpatias are used to treat a great variety of problems ranging from asthma to infidelity. Using content from existing simpatias, experimental simpatias were designed to manipulate the kinds of information that influences perceptions of efficacy. A fourth study (N=68) with identical stimuli was conducted with a US sample to assess the generalizability of the findings across two different cultural contexts. The results provide evidence that information reflecting intuitive causal principles (i.e., repetition of procedures, number of procedural steps) and transcendental influence (i.e., presence of religious icons) affects how people evaluate ritual efficacy.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.