Morbid Thoughts

Posted: April 28, 2012 by jerkmagblog in VAULT -- archives

How often do you think about death? Probably not very often – unless there’s an episode of Law & Order: SVU on, or you’re re-watching Ryan Gosling in Drive for the millionth time. But according to a recent study, the more you think about death, the healthier you may be. (Death in general, that is – if you’re thinking about your own death, please get some help).

Most research on the effects of thoughts of our own mortality have been nothing but negative in the past. Fueling everything from violence to prejudices, thinking about death has proven to be destructive. But recent studies show that awareness of our own mortality can urge people to live healthier lifestyles.

The study in question was performed by Kenneth Vail, a professor at the University of Missouri, and found that “subtle, day-to-day death awareness might be capable of motivating attitudes and behaviors that can minimize harm to oneself and others, and can promote well-being.”

Although the study itself did not test any specific situations or factors, it relied on past studies, including one that took place back in 2008 that involved people walking through cemeteries. The study, by psychologist Matthew Gailliot, observed people both walking through a cemetery and those that were a block away, unable to see the cemetery. Throughout their walks, people were asked by actors to help with menial tasks, such as picking up a dropped notebook. The results showed that those closer to the cemetery were more willing to lend a helping hand than those further away, concluding that “awareness of death can motivate increased expression of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism.”

Another study that took place in 2010 found that thoughts of death can promote a healthier lifestyle through increased awareness by performing regular breast self-exams.

But overall, Vail’s study suggests that not all thoughts on death can result in violent behavior and social maladies, but rather urge people to live healthily in order to live the best life they can possibly live.

—Amber Brenza

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