Can Reflecting On Death Make You More Altruistic?

When presented with our own mortality, we become more giving, and happier as a result.

Death comes for us all in time, and that notion is quite terrifying. One group of researchers recently found that when people approach certain birthday milestones, there tends to be a spike in life-altering decisions from running a marathon to having an affair. But there's another way to feel good and stave off those feelings of death: through giving.


Charles Dickens' Scrooge is the poster child for this effect. In realizing his own life would come to an end some day, he changed his ways and became more giving (and happier because of it). Tom Jacobs from Pacific Standard writes on a recent study that revisits the Scrooge phenomena and explains how awareness of our finite time on this Earth can prompt altruistic behavior in us all.

Researchers out of Poland write in their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology:

"Acting pro-socially in the face of mortality thoughts effectively soothes death anxiety, and in turn produces psychological satisfaction.”

The scientific term for this behavior is “terror management theory,” and it's defined as how “people deal with the potential for anxiety that results from the knowledge of the inevitability of death by holding on to sources of value that exist within their cultural worldview.” In short, people will attempt to transcend death by creating something that will live on after they've died by contributing to a cause and doing good works or believing in an afterlife.

So, what about us average Joes? The researchers tested this theory on a group of students, asking one group of participants to fill out a "fear of death" questionnaire, while another group filled out a questionnaire about dental-pain anxiety.

After completing their questionnaires, the participants spent some time distracting themselves with a short crossword puzzle. The students were then presented with two envelopes labeled “Me” and “Player Two.” They were told to divide 30 Polish zlotys (about $8) between the envelopes. To raise the stakes, participants were also told that one-third of participants would "receive real payoffs after the study."

Not only did people who were prompted with thoughts of death put more into the “Player Two” envelope, but also researchers write that they "derived higher joy from giving more."

The researchers concluded in their paper “that acting pro-socially in the face of mortality thoughts effectively soothes death anxiety and in turn produces psychological satisfaction.”

Read more at Pacific Standard.

Photo Credit: Matthias Ripp / Flickr

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  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: