Dimitris Xygalatas’ photo essay in Sapiens

Sapien, the online journal of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, has published a photo essay by Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCONN. The essay entitled “The Perennial Power of Ritual” focuses on the psychological, and cultural significance of ritual behavior, including its role in stress reduction, community building, providing guidance, and aggression management. The photo essay covers examples of ritual practice in Spain, Madagascar, Vietnam, Mauritius, and Guatemala.

Dimitris Xygalatas

Martin Lang has been awarded a summer fellowship at IBACS

Martin LangCongratulations to our graduate student Martin Lang, who has been awarded a summer fellowship at the Connecticut Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences (IBACS)! The project entitled “Effects of predictable behavioral patterns on anxiety” will examine the mechanisms by which ritualization might soothe anxiety, and may reveal better ways of stress-management and coping with anxiety.

New paper about environmental cues and fairness

It Depends Who Is Watching You: 3-D Agent Cues Increase Fairness

Jan Krátký, John J. McGraw, Dimitris Xygalatas, Panagiotis Mitkidis, Paul Reddish


Laboratory and field studies have demonstrated that exposure to cues of intentional agents in the form of eyes can increase prosocial behavior. However, previous research mostly used 2-dimensional depictions as experimental stimuli. Thus far no study has examined the influence of the spatial properties of agency cues on this prosocial effect. To investigate the role of dimensionality of agency cues on fairness, 345 participants engaged in a decision-making task in a naturalistic setting. The experimental treatment included a 3-dimensional pseudo-realistic model of a human head and a 2-dimensional picture of the same object. The control stimuli consisted of a real plant and its 2-D image. Our results partly support the findings of previous studies that cues of intentional agents increase prosocial behavior…..

D. Xygalatas’ research on moralistic gods published in Nature

Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality

Benjamin Grant Purzycki, Coren Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Rita Anne McNamara, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ara Norenzayan & Joseph Henrich

moralistic gods

Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups. To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms. Here we focus on one key hypothesis: cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers….

Lang et al. on rhythm and motor coordination

UCONN Anthropology graduate student Martin Lang with a collective of authors including Dimitris Xygalatas just published a new article in Cognitive Science about their research on rhythm and motor coordination.

Lost in the Rhythm: Effects of Rhythm on Subsequent Interpersonal Coordination

Martin Lang, Daniel J. Shaw, Paul Reddish, Sebastian Wallot, Panagiotis Mitkidis, & Dimitris Xygalatas

Music is a natural human expression present in all cultures, but the functions it serves are still debated. Previous research indicates that rhythm, an essential feature of music, can enhance coordination of movement and increase social bonding. However, the prolonged effects of rhythm have not yet been investigated. In this study, pairs of participants were exposed to one of three kinds of auditory stimuli (rhythmic, arrhythmic, or white-noise) and subsequently engaged in five trials of a joint-action task demanding interpersonal coordination. We show that when compared with the other two stimuli, exposure to the rhythmic beat reduced the practice effect in task performance. Analysis of the behavioral data suggests that this reduction results from more temporally coupled motor movements over successive trials and that shared exposure to rhythm facilitates interpersonal motor coupling, which in this context serves to impede the attainment of necessary dynamic coordination. We propose that rhythm has the potential to enhance interpersonal motor coupling, which might serve as a mechanism behind its facilitation of positive social attitudes.

Coverage of Lang et al. work in UCONN Today

UCONN Today covered a recent publication on anxiety and ritualization published in Current Biology by Martin Lang and Dimitris Xygalatas.

cleaning task copy
Rinse and repeat to remove anxiety

The study found stress can result in action that could help as a coping strategy to reduce anxiety, a determination that may lead to a better understanding of psychiatric disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders.
Advances in motion sensing technology offered researchers a new way to test for a link between ritual and anxiety. Although the link has been theorized for many years in social science research, the study is the first hard evidence of a relationship between the two, according to Martin Lang, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UConn who led the study….