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Brain turns to the positive when faced with death

A recent study carried out by psychologists Nathan DeWall and Roy Baumeister shows that when people are faced with thoughts of death their mind isn?t paralysed with negativity or fear. Instead, the brain instinctively moves towards happier images and ideas.
This study supports the idea that people are stronger, emotionally, when faced with their own or a loved one?s death than they may have ever thought was possible.

In the study, De Wall and Baumiester asked 100 participants to imagine the process of their own death, as well as what it might be like to be dead.  Another group were asked to think about an unpleasant event - a trip to the dentist - but not death.

Immediately after this thought exercise the researchers asked participants to finish the words in a list e.g. ?jo.?  which could be filled in as job, jog or joy.  Those individuals who had been asked to think about their death were much more likely than the dentist group to fill in the word as ?joy?

In another word test, the subjects were given a word (e.g. puppy)and asked to pair it with one of two other words, one of the words was similar in meaning (beetle) and the other was similar in emotional meaning (parade). Those in the death condition who were given the word ?puppy? were more likely than the control group to chose ?parade? than the word beetle.  The word parade is fun like a puppy and both conjure up positive emotion.  The researchers point out that people in the death condition unconsciously chose the positive emotion choice.  This is thought to occur because the mind may be hardwired to go to a ?happy place? when thoughts of death intrude and may have a protective factor.

This finding is counterintuitive as people expect that they will feel really awful when confronted with their own mortality and related concepts.  The findings fits in with the existing literature on how people survive, and even thrive, after some of life?s most difficult events.

As people grow older they are much more focused on the positive.  There is one exception to this rule, and that is clinically depressed people.  They do not tend to think positively when faced with thoughts of death.  De Wall suggest that this is because their ?psychological immune system? may have gone off track.  

Though this research shows the short term effects of how people cope when faced with thoughts of death, it does not look at the long term effects which may produce a different picture.  To read the article click here
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