Rituals have throughout human history been enacted to mark life events. Rituals are systematized sequences of behaviors that prepare us for something to happen, and they often include repeated and unusual behaviors. They influence how people experience what comes next (Vohs et al., 2013).
Rituals are enacted in a variety of events such as sport events, academic examinations and even before meals (e.g., birthday ritual). Meal rituals have been described as an arousing desire by anthropologists, and the French are known for their love of food and their ritualized eating behavior.
The way in which rituals enhance food consumption is that they increase involvement and intrinsic interest. Involvement may be the driving force behind rituals so that increased involvement will increase the pleasure that is associated with eating.
Involvement makes you more occupied with the activity of eating so that your attention is directed toward eating, and this has been linked to less food consumption.
Vohs and colleagues (2013) examined the effects of rituals on eating, and they predicted that:
“… the experience of consuming would be enhanced — making the food or beverage tastier, as well as enjoyed, savored, and valued more — when preceded by ritual than when not.” (p.1).
The authors found that the rituals enhanced consumption and increased enjoyment of sweet (chocolate), tart (lemonade), and healthy/neutral (carrots) items.
The effect was true for a number of ritualized behaviors. Subjective ratings of flavor, enjoyment, willingness to pay, and time spent savoring, were measured. Across all these measures, rituals improved the consumption experiences by increasing involvement and (intrinsic) interest. Rituals seem to improve flavor which is one of the strongest determinants for people to choose food to eat.
The study (Vohs et al., 2013) also showed that observing a ritual being performed does not enhance consumption as much as personal involvement in performing a ritual. The authors further state that rituals do not necessarily improve all kinds of consumption, since the effects of rituals on unenjoyable foods have not been examined yet.
The effects of rituals may go beyond food consumption because some studies have found that families who consistently enact ritual behaviors have children with better self-control and academic performance than families who don’t perform rituals (Vohs et al., 2013).
These findings shed light on more broad and positive outcomes of rituals, and because of these general positive outcomes, rituals may serve as a way to improve a variety of outcomes in life by increasing involvement and intrinsic interest in life.
What are your rituals, if you have any?