Women are banished by unfounded witchcraft labels

The research highlights the importance of further investigations into who gets labelled, when and why it sticks, and the significance of maintaining an honest reputation.

Women are banished by unfounded witchcraft labels
Image: Bex Caygill University College London

According to a new study by the UCL scientists, witchcraft labels are toxic for female contenders and significantly influence the structure of interpersonal organizations. The study mainly quantifies the effect of witchcraft labels, for example, ‘zhu’ utilized as a part of country China, on groups including their impact on social life and how informal communities are organized.

Scientists worked with five villages in rural China where they found 13.7% of households – normally those headed by a relatively wealthy woman – are stigmatised with a witchcraft label associated with the threat of food poisoning.

Study’s first author, Professor Ruth Mace said, “We found quite high levels of belief in some women being ‘poison givers’ – labelled zhu or zhubu – sometimes translated as a witch in this rural area of China. They are thought to poison you if you eat at their house, which is completely unfounded. We show that the label bears no meaningful information about the qualities of an individual but has profound social implications.”

Family units without the mark stay away from zhu-named families – they don’t have associations with them or offer financial matters endowments or cultivating help. To relieve this, family units conveying the name connect with, assist and discover companions with each other and we discovered they are no less agreeable than non-zhu named people.

The analysts evaluated participation amongst named and non-named family units by giving people blessings of cash which they could impart to a mysterious individual from their town. This demonstrated a comparative level of collaboration inside the two gatherings. The group likewise followed family relationship information and estimated connections with regards to cultivating work.

Despite the fact that anthropologists have long had an enthusiasm for considering witchcraft convictions, not very many different investigations have taken a gander at groups from a quantitative point of view or mapped the subsequent informal organizations. In this investigation, the utilization of quantitative information helped the specialists achieve a wealthier comprehension of how the zhu mark affected social life and who it may be connected to.

Professor Mace said, “Some anthropologists have suggested that witchcraft beliefs serve to promote cooperative behaviour but our results contradict this. Our findings suggest that while the origins of the witchcraft labels and accusations are unclear, they may reflect jealousy and spite towards competitors, who are predominantly women.”

The team conclude that witchcraft accusations are widespread and so the findings and future work are globally relevant and may even have analogues in ‘modern’ social contexts such as trolling on social media platforms.

The study ‘Population structured by witchcraft beliefs‘ is available online at Nature Human Behaviour.