Can Reflecting On Death Make You More Altruistic?
When presented with our own mortality, we become more giving, and happier as a result.
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker
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
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?
- During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
- The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
- Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.
- Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
- In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
- Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.