The effects of extreme rituals on moral behavior: The performers-observers gap hypothesis

Panagiotis Mitkidis, Shahar Ayal, Shaul Shalvi, Katrin Heimann, Gabriel Levy, Miriam Kyselo, Sebastian Wallot, Dan Ariely, Andreas Roepstorff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Religious rituals are found all over the world. Some cultures engage in extreme religious rituals in which individuals take on forms of bodily harm to demonstrate their devotion. Such rituals entail excessive costs in terms of physical pain and effort, but the equivalent societal benefits remain unclear. The field experiment reported here examined the interplay between extreme rituals and moral behavior. Using a die-roll task to measure honest behavior, we tested whether engaging or observing others engaging in extreme ritual activities affects subsequent moral behavior. Strikingly, the results showed that extreme rituals promote moral behavior among ritual observers, but not among ritual performers. The discussion centres on the moral effects of rituals within the broader social context in which they occur. Extreme religious rituals appear to have a moral cleansing effect on the numerous individuals observing the rituals, which may imply that these rituals evolved to advance and maintain moral societies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cleansing
  • Extreme rituals
  • Licensing
  • Moral behavior
  • Self-sacrifice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'The effects of extreme rituals on moral behavior: The performers-observers gap hypothesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this