FAIRFAX, Va., February 28, 2011Death can be terrifying. Recognizing that death is inescapable and unpredictable makes us incredibly vulnerable, and can invoke feelings of anxiety, hatred and fear. But new research by George Mason University psychology professor Todd Kashdan shows that being a mindful person not only makes you generally more tolerant and less defensive, but it can also actually neutralize fears of dying and death.
"Mindfulness is being open, receptive, and attentive to whatever is unfolding in the present moment," says Kashdan. In his latest research, Kashdan and his colleagues wanted to find out if mindful people had different attitudes about death and dying.
"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," says Kashdan.
"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."
Kashdan says this practice often has an ugly sideintolerance and abuse. "When people are reminded that death is impending, their racist tendencies increase," he says. 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.
Kasdan wondered what might prevent these defensive, intolerant reactions from occurring. In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he and his colleagues looked at what might happen when mindfulness and the terror of death collide.
"A grudge match between humanity and death," says Kashdan.
|Contact: Tara Laskowski|
George Mason University