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Philosophy: Contact with death improves people’s behaviour?

From “The Bright Side of Death: Awareness of Mortality Can Result in Positive Behaviors”

(ScienceDaily, Apr. 30, 2012), we learn,

Contemplating death doesn’t necessarily lead to morose despondency, fear, aggression or other negative behaviors, as previous research has suggested. Following a review of dozens of studies, University of Missouri researchers found that thoughts of mortality can lead to decreased militaristic attitudes, better health decisions, increased altruism and helpfulness, and reduced divorce rates.

After real catastrophes, such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, people’s heightened fear and awareness of death had both positive and negative effects.

“Both the news media and researchers tended to focus on the negative reaction to these acts of terrorism, such as violence and discrimination against Muslims, but studies also found that people expressed higher degrees of gratitude, hope, kindness and leadership after 9/11.” Vail said.

Because that is a story legacy news media tell reflexively (story for another day). The difference with new media is that you can find the stories you are looking for. There is no gatekeeper any more except you.

“In another example, after the Oklahoma City bombing, divorce rates went down in surrounding counties. After some stimuli escalates one’s awareness of death, the positive reaction is to try to reaffirm that the world has positive aspects as well.”

“Once we started developing this study we were surprised how much research showed positive outcomes from awareness of mortality,” said Arndt. “It seems that people may be just as capable of doing the opposite and ‘looking on the bright side of death,’ as the Monty Python song says.”

Well, classical philosophers have said that philosophy is learning how to die.

Thought experiment: How would philosophy be different if no one ever died? Or some people died but not others?

Perhaps the best formulation of the finding ever is the popular saying, “No one on their deathbed wishes that they had spent more time at the office.”

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One Response to Philosophy: Contact with death improves people’s behaviour?

  1. >“Once we started developing this study we were surprised how >much research showed positive outcomes from awareness of >mortality,” said Arndt.

    The expression: “positive outcome” appears to imply a value judgement. What is the scientific basis for making such value judgements? What “manual” should we consult to evaluate “positive” vs “negative” outcomes, in this context?

    Thanks.

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