Trance, Dissociation, and Shamanism: A Cross-Cultural Model

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Religious practices centered on controlled trance states, such as Siberian shamanism or North African zar, are ubiquitous, yet their characteristics vary. In particular, cross-cultural research finds that female-dominated spirit possession cults are common in stratified societies, whereas male-dominated shamanism predominates in structurally flatter cultures. Here, we present an agent-based model that explores factors, including social stratification and psychological dissociation, that may partially account for this pattern. We posit that, in more stratified societies, female agents suffer from higher levels of psychosocial trauma, whereas male agents are more vulnerable in flatter societies. In societies with fewer levels of formal hierarchy, males come into informal social competition more regularly than in stratified contexts. This instability leads to a cultural feedback effect in which dissociative experiences deriving from chronic psychosocial stress become canalized into a male religious trance role. The model reproduces these patterns under plausible parameter configurations.

Trance, Dissociation, and Shamanism: A Cross-Cultural Model

in Journal of Cognition and Culture



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  • View in gallery
    Model parameters and effects
  • View in gallery
    Individual agent routine

    The agent routine for each individual at each time step. Solid boxes are core operations of the routine, while dotted boxes and arrows indicate the algorithm components for each operation.

  • View in gallery
    Initial calibration experiment results
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    Figure 2a shows the rank distributions by gender that are associated with the highest ratio of female shamans to male shamans in calibration runs in which somatization threshold parameters are constrained to be stable and equal between genders. Figure 2b shows the rank distributions by gender that are associated with the highest ratio of male shamans to female shamans in calibration experiments with the same constraints. Vertical axis represents social rank. Overall, flatter and more gender-equal social structure is associated with more male shamans.
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    Secondary calibration experiment results
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    Parameter configurations for high male:female shaman ratio and low overall shaman population
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    Simulated environment for highly egalitarian society

    This image demonstrates the ABM simulation interface. Black agents are nonshamans. Red agents are male shamans. Blue agents are female shamans. In a society with realistic parameters governing sex differences in gender (Column 3 of Table 4), only 12.5% of men and 1% of women are shamans at the end of a 20-year simulated period.

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