Saturday, November 14, 2009

Importance of Informed Consent in Rituals

I was part of the "Order of the Arrow" in Scouts growing up and also went through the Mormon temple without knowing in advance what would happen.

I don't like uninformed consent. It is disorienting and scary to not know what is going on or what will happen next or what limits there are to the experience. It puts participants in a psychologically vulnerable state in which they feel pressured to go along and do things they probably would not had they been informed ahead of time. Sure, any participant is free to leave or opt out, just like during a Mormon endowment, but the participant feels intense psychological pressure to conform (and none of the people in charge even have to make a threat). The experience just takes advantage of normal social pressure to conform.

But, after a person does conform, cognitive dissonance kicks in and their minds make them believe that they actually wanted to do it because that is the only reason they can think of for why they did it.Had they been threatened, then they would have that excuse for why they complied, but in the absence of threats, they can't understand why they wouldparticipate in such a humiliating ritual, and so their mind assumes then that they did it because they wanted to. And the more uncomfortable it was, the more they convince themselves they really like it. This is classic cognitive dissonance theory.

These are prime manipulation techniques whether the members putting on the ceremony consciously understand that or not.

Now, as a side note, people go into haunted houses not knowing what to expect, but they do expect the experience will be kept within certain boundaries. They expect to be startled and see gruesome things, but they expect that no real violence will occur. With secret rituals, the initiate has no idea what boundaries exist for the experience. Participants in psychological experiments know that some review board not affiliated with the researchers had to approve the protocol. But, there is no oversight of secret rituals.


Allan said...

But the review board for the endowment are those people you know and trust who have been through it and assured you that it is beautiful and uplifting.

Of course, they are also the psychological muscle that keeps you from walking out in the middle. After all, your rejection of the ceremony wouldn't just reflect on you but also on them. You'd effectively be judging them as lacking the judgment that you have.

My father paraphrased this by saying that by rejecting Mormonism as an obvious fraud I was effectively calling him and idiot for believing.

~Clint~ said...

Thank you for verbalizing this concept. I would have had a much harder time with how to express this before reading the way you phrase it.

I was fortunate (upcoming sarcasm) to go through the temple when they had more of the good hard stuff in there, just months before they softened it up in 1990. Although it is my understanding that even that version had been toned down from the previous one.

I can honestly say it was very uncomfortable, but fortunately I had my father and grand-father with me to make sure I made the right decisions.

You really don't realize the nature and severity of the content of the temple ceremony coming into it. Like the previous poster commented, you have people assuring you it is beautiful and uplifting.

By analogy I feel confident that if content similar to some of that in temple ceremony came on TV, my parents would have turned the channel in horror that such such things would be said.