A study recently published in Frontiers provides new insight into the psychology of raves. The findings suggests that awe-inspiring experiences fueled by psychoactive substances, vigorous dancing, intense rhythmic drums, and a lack of sleep are associated with personal transformation and social connectedness.
“We were primarily interested in paths to becoming bonded – or fused – to a group. In particular, we wanted to see if the transformative experiences users of psychedelics often report might be associated with bonding to one’s social group,” explained study author Martha Newson of the University of Kent and University of Oxford.
“Psychedelics have a deep-rooted stigma related to recreational drug use and harm, but they are being used more and more in clinical studies for drug therapy in the search for more effective treatment pathways – for example, treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or even anorexia,” Newson said in a news release.
The researchers used online advertisements to recruit and survey 481 adults who had attended a rave in the past five years. Newson and her colleagues asked the participants to describe a rave they felt was particularly profound or awe-inspiring. The participants then answered a variety of questions about that particular rave. The survey questions were based on a novel model of ritual engagement dubbed the “4Ds” — dance, drumming, drugs, and sleep deprivation.
The researchers found that scoring high on the 4D measures was associated with personally transformative experiences, and that awe mediated this relationship.
In other words, those who engaged in behaviors to alter their state of consciousness, such as constantly dancing to percussive electronic music, tended to report elevated levels of awe at the rave. Participants who reported consuming drugs tended to report experiencing more awe compared to those who didn’t take any — and psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin and LSD, had the greatest effect on awe. Those who experienced more awe, in turn, were more likely to agree with statements such as “The event has shaped me as a person.”
Moreover, participants who felt personally transformed by the experience were more likely to feel bonded with those around them at the rave and more willing to donate to a rave-based charity.
The findings provide evidence that “human collective rituals are powerful in giving us a sense of identity and belonging,” Newson told PsyPost. “The 4Ds — dance, drumming, drugs, and sleep deprivation — often appear at such events in some form or other to alter our states of consciousness. It seems that this leads to feeling that we have been personally transformed by the event and solidifies our bonds to those around us.”
But the 4Ds were negatively associated with personal transformation among those who reported experiencing low levels of awe. “Presumably, ravers who dance to loud repetitive beats, stay up all night, and take excessive quantities of drugs without a feeling of awe are quite simply exhausted,” the researchers explained.
The study, like all research, also includes some limitations.
“We wanted to work with a natural setting so we asked people who had attended raves and illegal ‘free parties’ to remember a particularly awe-inspiring event,” Newson explained. “Many of the participants reported using multiple drugs, as well as alcohol, so it is hard to isolate the effects of psychedelics alone. We also can’t say anything was cause and effect with this particular study. We would need an experimental or longitudinal design for that.”
Despite the limitations, the findings suggest that ritualized events such as raves are associated with enhanced connectedness and other psychological outcomes.
“Undoing the negative connotations associated with rave culture is a big challenge, but this research shows there are indeed social and behavioral benefits that ravers gain from the experience,” Newson said. “Our need to connect meaningfully with others will always prevail – whether it’s singing in choir at church or stomping to electronic music in a dis-used warehouse.”
The study, “‘I Get High With a Little Help From My Friends’ – How Raves Can Invoke Identity Fusion and Lasting Co-operation via Transformative Experiences“, was authored by Martha Newson, Ragini Khurana, Freya Cazorla and Valerie van Mulukom.