Being mindful `eases fear of death and dying`

Updated: Mar 01, 2011, 20:43 PM IST

Washington: A George Mason University study has suggested that being a mindful person not only makes you more tolerant, but it can also neutralize fears of dying and death.

"Generally, when reminded of our mortality, we are extremely defensive. Like little kids who nearly suffocate under blanket protection to fend off the monster in the closet, the first thing we try to do is purge any death-related thoughts or feelings from our mind," said Todd Kashdan of the George Mason University.

"On the fringes of this conscious awareness, we try another attempt to ward off death anxiety. We violently defend beliefs and practices that provide a sense of stability and meaning in our lives," he said.

Kashdan said this practice often has an ugly side-intolerance and abuse.

"When people are reminded that death is impending, their racist tendencies increase," he said.

In a series of experiments conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, white people asked to read about a crime committed by another person give harsher penalties for black compared with white defendants after being reminded of their mortality.

Kashdan wondered what might prevent these defensive, intolerant reactions from occurring. In the recent study, he and colleagues looked at what might happen when mindfulness and the terror of death collide.

"A grudge match between humanity and death," said Kashdan.

Based on the results of 7 different experiments, the researchers found that when reminded about their death and asked to write about what will happen when their bodies decompose, less mindful people showed an intense dislike for foreigners, greater prejudice against black managers who discriminated against a white employee in a promotion decision and, harsher penalties for social transgressions such as prostitution, marital infidelities, and drug use by physicians that led to surgical mishaps.

Across these various situations, on the contrast, mindful people showed a lack of defensiveness toward people that didn``t share their worldview. Mindful people were diplomatic and tolerant regardless of whether they were prompted to think about their slow, systematic decline toward obliteration.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.