All over the world, people in pain turn to rituals in the face of loss—no matter if it’s the death of a loved one (dressing in black, for example), the end of a relationship (burning old love letters), or the crushing defeat in a Little League baseball game (graciously shaking hands with the winning team). But what’s the point?
Behavioral scientist Michael I. Norton became interested in mourning rituals after reading Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which describes elaborate ways that parents, spouses, children, and friends dealt with the massive loss of soldiers during the American Civil War. It got him to wondering whether rituals were merely a traditional part of the grieving process, or whether they truly alleviated grief.
“We see in every culture—and throughout history—that people who perform rituals report feeling better,” says Norton, an associate professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School. “But we didn’t know if the ritual caused the healing.”
What followed was a series of experiments in which Norton and fellow HBS Associate Professor Francesca Gino found that rituals indeed alleviate and reduce grief, even among people who don’t inherently believe in the efficacy of rituals. Further experiments showed that ritualistic behavior also enhances the experience of consuming food—including food as mundane as a carrot. Future experiments will delve into whether rituals affect productivity and morale in the workplace.
Read the whole story: Forbes