Eyes in the Dark: Explaining the Universal Ritual Function of Dark Zones via Eye-tracking Technology

Author(s): Shadab Tabatabaeian

Year: 2018


A plethora of ethnographic and archaeological evidence indicates a cross-cultural association of dark zones of caves with supernatural phenomena. In various geographic locations and time periods, human beings have been frequenting dark zones for ritual purposes. Regarding the unsuitable living conditions of dark zones, the following question arises: what drives humans to choose such places for practicing rituals? The answer to this question lies in the way human beings interact with dark cave environments. In this paper, I suggest that experiencing sensory deprivation, in particular lack of vision in dark zones, precipitates the enhancement of abstract and magical thinking. To verify this hypothesis, I employed the methods of cognitive scientists—namely, experimental research. I conducted an experiment using eye-tracking glasses to record participants’ eye-movement trajectories in darkness. The results indicated that eye-movement patterns during darkness resemble that of activities involving abstract and primary process thinking (aka magical thinking). Consequently, darkness provokes and facilitates magical thinking. Thus, I suggest that in addition to social and cultural incentives, darkness, as an environmental cue, sets the stage for human beings to associate dark zones of caves with supernatural powers and therefore choose to practice rituals in such locations.

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Eyes in the Dark: Explaining the Universal Ritual Function of Dark Zones via Eye-tracking Technology. Shadab Tabatabaeian. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442859)

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Abstract Id(s): 18707