Ritual is a puzzling aspect of human behavior. It is a human universal, yet its utility is not readily obvious. We explore cultural practices that range from the routine to the extraordinary, including some of the world’s most extreme rituals, to understand what these practices do for individuals and their communities, and how they can soothe, excite, unite and divide us.


Humans feel the need to belong, and sports fanship is an expression of that need. We are interested in what drives sports fans to affiliate with their teams, and how sports incite passions, for better or for worse. We explore the psycho-physiological dynamics of the interaction between fans, as well as those between sports performers and spectators.

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Why do we love music and dance? We investigate how rhythm, synchrony, and various other aspects of music and dance affect the experience of performers and audiences. We are interested in how these aspects contribute to positive feelings for individuals and contribute to social bonding for groups.


We humans often think we are special. But how different are we, and how much do we share with our closest relatives? By comparing the cognitive abilities and behaviors of humans and other primates, we wish to get a better understanding of the the evolutionary origins of our own cognition, behavior, and culture.

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Xygalatas, D., S. Khan, M. Lang, R. Kundt, E. Kundtová-Klocová, J. Kratky & J. Shaver (2019). Effects of extreme ritual practices on health and well-being. Current Anthropology 60(5): 699-707

Lang, M., B. Purzycki, C. Apicella, Q. Atkinson, A. Bolyanatz, E. Cohen, E. Kundtová Klocová, C. Handley, C. Lesorogol, S. Mathew, R. McNamara, C. Moya, C. Placek, M. Soler, T. Vardy, J. Weigel, A. Willard, D. Xygalatas, A. Norenzayan & J. Henrich (2019). Moralizing gods, impartiality, and religious parochialism across 15 societies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286: 20190202

Shaver, J., M. Lang, J. Krátký, E. Kundtová-Klocová, R. Kundt & D. Xygalatas (2018). The boundaries of trust: Cross-religious and cross-ethnic field experiments in Mauritius. Evolutionary Psychology 16(4)

Sznycer, D., D. Xygalatas, E. Agey, S. Alami, X. An, K. Ananyeva, B. Broitman, Th. Conte, C. Flores, Sh. Fukushima, H. Hitokoto, A. Kharitonov, C. Onyishi, I. Onyishi, P. Romero, J. Schrock, L. Sugiyama, K. Takemura, C. Townsend, J. Zhuang, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby (2018). Cross-cultural invariances in the architecture of shame. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 115(39): 9702-9707

Gervais, W., M. van Elk, D. Xygalatas, R. McKay, M. Aveyard, E. Buchtel, I. Dar-Nimrod, E. Kundtová-Klocová, J. Ramsay, T Riekki, A. Svedholm-Häkkinen & J. Bulbulia (2018). Analytic atheism: A cross-culturally fickle phenomenon? Judgment and Decision Making 13(3): 268-274

Sznycer, D., D. Xygalatas, S. Alami, X. An, K. Ananyeva, H. Hitokoto, A. Kharitonov, J. Koster, C. Onyishi, I. Onyishi, P. Romero, K. Takemura, J. Zhuang, A. Aktipis, L. Cronk, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby (2018). Invariances in the architecture of pride: Evidence from small-scale societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 115(33): 8322-8327

Purzycki, B. C. Ross, C. Apicella, Q. Atkinson, E. Cohen, R. McNamara, A. Willard, D. Xygalatas, A. Norenzayan & J. Henrich (2018). Material Security, Life History, and Moralistic Religions: A Cross-Cultural Examination. PLOS One 13(3): e0193856

Purzycki, B., A. Pisor, C. Apicella, Q Atkinson, E. Cohen, J. Henrich, R. McElreath, R. McNamara, A. Norenzayan, A. Willard & D. Xygalatas (2018). The Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Moral Behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior 39(5): 490–501

Hobson, N., J. Schroeder, J. Risen, D. Xygalatas, & M. Inzlicht (2017). The psychology of rituals: An integrative review and process-based framework. Personality and Social Psychology Review  22(3):260-284

Gervais, W., D. Xygalatas, R. McKay, M. van Elk, E. Buchtel, M. Aveyard, S. Schiavone, I. Dar-Nimrod, A. Svedholm-Häkkinen, T. Riekki, E. Kundtová-Klocová, J. Ramsay & J. Bulbulia (2017). Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists. Nature Human Behaviour 1(8): 0151

Mano, P. (2018). review: Ritual Gone Wrong: What We Learn from Ritual Disruption, by Kathryn T. McClymond, New York, Oxford University Press, 2016, xiv+ 242 pp., ISBN 978 0 1997 9092 0.

Lang, M., V. Bahna, J. Shaver, P. Reddish & D. Xygalatas (2017). Sync to Link: How Does Synchrony Promote Cooperation. Biological Psychology, 127:191-197

Xygalatas, D., Kotherová, S., Maňo, P., Kundt, R., Cigán, J., Kundtová Klocová, E., & Lang (2017). M. Big Gods in Small Places: The Random Allocation Game in Mauritius. Religion, Brain and Behavior 8(2): 243-261

Purzycki, B., J. Henrich, C. Apicella, Q. Atkinson, E. Cohen, R. McNamara, A. Willard, D. Xygalatas, & A. Norenzayan (2017). The Evolution of Religion and Morality: A Synthesis of Ethnographic and Experimental Evidence from Eight Societies. Religion, Brain and Behavior. 8(2): 101–132

Pazhoohi, F., M Lang, D. Xygalatas & K. Grammer (2016). Religious veiling as a mate-guarding strategy: effects of environmental pressures on cultural practices. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3(2): 118–124

Purzycki, B., C. Apicella, Q. Atkinson, E. Cohen, R. McNamara, A. Willard, D. Xygalatas, A. Norenzayan & J. Henrich (2016). Cross-cultural dataset for the Evolution of Religion and Morality Project. Nature Scientific Data 3:16099.

Xygalatas, D. & M. Lang (2016). Prosociality and Religion. In N. Kasumi Clements (ed). Mental Religion. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. Macmillan, 119-133

Lang, M., & Kundt, R. (2016). Can Predictive Coding Explain Past Experiences? Religion, Brain, & Behavior, DOI:10.1080/2153599X.2016.1150332

Krátký, J., M. Lang, J. Shaver, D. Jerotijević, & D. Xygalatas (2016). Anxiety and ritualization: Can attention discriminate compulsion from routine? Communicative & Integrative Biology 9(3): e1174799

Lang, M., P. Mitkidis, R. Kundt, A. Nichols, L. Krajčíková & D. Xygalatas (2016). Music as a sacred cue? Effects of religious music on moral behavior. Frontiers in Psychology 7, 814

Purzycki, B., A. Norenzayan, C. Apicella, Q. Atkinson, E. Cohen, R. McNamara, A. Willard, D. Xygalatas, & J. Henrich (2016). Moralistic Gods, Supernatural Punishment and the Expansion of Human Sociality, Nature 530, 327–330

Krátký, J., J. McGraw, D. Xygalatas, P. Mitkidis, & P. Reddish (2016), It depends who is watching you: 3-dimensional agent representations increase generosity in a naturalistic setting, PLOS ONE 11(2): e0148845.

Xygalatas, D., Kundtová Klocová, E., Cigán, J., Kundt, R., Maňo, P., Kotherová, S., Mitkidis, P., Wallot, S. & Kanovsky, M. (2015). Location, location, location: Effects of cross-religious primes on prosocial behaviour, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 26(4): 304–319

Lang, M, Shaw, D., Reddish, P., Wallot, S., Mitkidis, P. & Xygalatas, D. 2015. Lost in the Rhythm: Effects of Rhythm on Subsequent Interpersonal Co-ordination. Cognitive Science 40(7): 1797–1815

Lang, M., Krátký, J., Shaver, J., Jerotijević, D., & Xygalatas, D., 2015. The Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior, Current Biology 25, 1-6.

Xygalatas, D., 2014. The biosocial basis of collective effervescence: An experimental anthropological study of a fire-walking ritual, Fieldwork in Religion 9(1): 53–67

Fischer, R. & D. Xygalatas. 2014. Extreme Rituals as Social Technologies, Journal of Cognition and Culture 14: 345–355

Mitkidis, P., Xygalatas, D., Buttrick, N., Porubanova, M. & Lienard, P. 2014. The Impact of Authority on Cooperation: A cross-cultural examination of systemic trust. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 1(3): 341–357

Fischer, R., Xygalatas, D., Mitkidis, P., Reddish, P., Konvalinka, I., & Bulbulia, J. 2014. The fire-walker’s high: Affect and physiological responses in an extreme collective ritual. PLOS ONE 9(2): e88355

Porubanova-Norquist, M., Shaw, D, McKay, R. & Xygalatas, D. 2014. Memory biases toward expectation-violating agents. PLOS ONE 9(4): e90684

Xygalatas, D., Mitkidis, P., Fischer, R., Reddish, P., Skewes, J., Geertz, A. W., Roepstorff, A. & Bulbulia, J. 2013. Extreme Rituals Promote Prosociality. Psychological Science 24(8): 1602–1605

Bulbulia, J. D. Xygalatas, U. Schjødt, S. Fondevila, Ch. Sibley, & I. Konvalinka. 2013. Images From a Jointly-Arousing Collective Ritual Reveal Emotional Polarization, Frontiers in Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00960

Porubanova-Norquist, M., Shaw, D. & Xygalatas, D. 2014. Minimal Counterintuitiveness Revisited: Effects of cultural and ontological violations on concept memorability. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 1(2): 181-192

Xygalatas, D., Schjoedt, U., Bulbulia, J., Konvalinka, I., Jegindø, E-M., Reddish, P., Geertz, A. W., & Roepstorff, A.2013. Autobiographical Memory in a Fire-Walking Ritual. Journal of Cognition and Culture 13(1-2): 1-16. 

D. Xygalatas, 2012. “Effects of religious setting on cooperative behaviour. A case study from Mauritius”, Religion, Brain and Behavior, 3(2): 91-102

D. Xygalatas, 2011. I. Konvalinka, A. Roepstorff, and J. Bulbulia. “Quantifying collective effervescence: Heart-rate dynamics at a fire-walking ritual”, Communicative & Integrative Biology 4 (6): 735-738.

I. Konvalinka, 2011. D. Xygalatas, J. Bulbulia, U. Schjødt, E-M. Jegindø, S. Wallot, G. Van Orden, and A. Roepstorff. “Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (20): 8514-8519