Why do we turn to ritual to get what we want?

August 5, 2012

This is not a question I had ever actually asked myself, but it is a question cognitive psychologist Cristine Legare has been asking herself for a while. I stumbled across Legare’s research about 10 days ago — it was a paper she has out in the latest issue of the journal Cognition — and was hooked by what she calls “supernatural reasoning.” Supernatural reasoning is essentially the reasoning we turn to when we engage in ritual, superstition or any other kind of behavior where there’s no clear physical evidence of cause and effect. When I talked to Legare last week, I realized that I had just participated in exactly the kind of ritual she wants to understand and explain; a chanting session at a yoga studio in support of a D.C.-area yoga instructor who’d recently been hospitalized for injuries sustained when he was attacked on the street while walking home. For more, read my post on Shots.