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Measuring social interaction


What: My previous work suggested that highly arousing rituals may have community-building effects (Konvalinka et al., 2011; Xygalatas et al., 2011), increasing prosocial behaviour and attitudes for performers as well as spectators (Xygalatas et al., 2013), and that such effects are situational rather than dispositional (Xygalatas, 2012). My ethnographic observations, along a long line of anthropological research (Durkheim, 1912; Rappaport, 1979; Turner, 1967), further support the claim that such events create a sense of community and closeness. This project will literally examine whether (and in what contexts) these rituals bring people together, by using tools and methods from the field of proxemics.

We will combine long-term participant observation with precise physiological and behavioural measurements never before used in the field. We will examine two rituals (one religious and one secular) in two different locations in Mauritius, using cutting-edge equipment developed by the MIT Media Lab (sociometric badges), which will allow us to track participants’ physical and linguistic activity (movement, spacial proximity, posture mirroring,  turn-taking, dominance, etc). In Rodrigues, we will examine sega (a highly ritualized form of communal dancing of the local Creole population) to compare social interaction between people who dance alone and those dancing in groups (randomly assigned). On the main island, we will use a 2x2 design to examine high- and low- intensity religious rituals (Cavadee vs puja) performed either by the same or another Hindu community. To avoid complex confounds related to intrinsic differences between rituals (duration, size of crowd, levels of exhaustion, etc.), we will use videos of the community’s (actual) past performances and random assignment. The prediction is that both collectivity of performance (study 1) and level of intensity (study 2) will increase the level of social interaction.


John J. McGraw, Panos Mitkidis & Sebastian Wallot (IMC)
Peter Mano (LEVYNA, Brno)
Ronald Fischer, Joseph Bulbulia (Victoria University New Zealand)
Maya de Salle Esso, Manesha Soneea & Dhareena Seernauth (local collaborators)


This project will build on and expand previous research by the PI and several AU researchers, and will advance our understanding of a universal yet insufficiently understood piece of human behaviour, while developing new tools that can produce cutting-edge research in ritual studies and also pioneer a new methodological paradigm to be used in a variety of projects at IMC.