How Our Brains Cope with the Thought of Death

Being trained by evolution to avoid confronting your own mortality, your brain may register a feeling of terror to read news articles about death. We have a strong aversion to our fragility.

What's the Latest Development?


A team of psychologists hypothesized that people would cling harder to their belief systems when confronted with the disturbing fact of their own mortality. To test their theory, the team asked different law court judges to deliver a ruling in a hypothetical case. After judges were given prompts reminding them of death, they were asked to set a bond for an alleged prostitute. "Judges reminded of their mortality set an average bond of $455 while judges not so reminded set an average bond of $50." It seems the judges treated an alleged violator of cultural norms more harshly when they were thinking of their own death. 

What's the Big Idea?

Being the only species which is consciously aware of its impending non-existence, humans have developed cultural system which portray the world as a meaningful, purposeful place in which death is not the final end. Besides the idea of an eternal soul, we talk of transcending death through social achievements like heroism, memorials and heirs. Decades of scientific research indicate that our mortality has a pervasive impact in our lives and that when we are reminded of our fragile and ephemeral nature, we quickly banish the thought by making our individual egos subservient to grander ideas like family, religion and nation.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.

(Goldstein Lab/Wkikpedia/Tigerspaws/Big Think)
Surprising Science
  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Why are women more religious than men? Because men are more willing to take risks.

It's one factor that can help explain the religiosity gap.

Photo credit: Alina Strong on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
  • A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
  • The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.
Keep reading Show less