Cultural differences influence our perception of death: Study

Updated: May 25, 2011, 13:14 PM IST

Washington: A new study has found how cultural differences shape our response to mortality.

European-Americans get worried and try to protect their sense of self, while Asian Americans are more likely to reach out to others.

Much of the research on what psychologists call “mortality salience” – thinking about death – has been done on people of European descent, and has found that it makes people act in dramatic ways.

“Men become more wary of sexy women and they like wholesome women more. People like to stereotype more. You see all these strange and bizarre occurrences when people think about the fact that they aren’t going to live forever,” said Christine Ma-Kellams of the University of California Santa Barbara, who carried out the research with Jim Blascovich.

Particularly, people try to protect their sense of self, by putting down people who aren’t like them or distancing themselves from innocent victims.

But, as a cultural psychologist, Ma-Kellams wondered if this reaction might be different in other cultures.

As other research has found, European-American people who had thought about death were much harsher towards the prostitute than those in the control group. But Asian-Americans who thought about death were much kinder toward the prostitute – even though they started out more conservative.

“For European-Americans, everyone wants to save themselves after thinking about death because loss of self is the worst possible consequence,” said Ma-Kellams.

“Asians don’t necessarily see themselves in that individualistic kind of way. Self is very much tied up with the people around you,” added Ma-Kellams.