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A grudge match between humanity and death -- who wins?
Date:2/28/2011

If mindful people are more willing to explore whatever happens in the present, even if it uncomfortable, will they show less defensiveness when their sense of self is threatened by a confrontation with their own mortality?

Based on the results of 7 different experiments, the answer appears to be yes. When reminded about their death and asked to write about what will happen when their bodies decompose (in grisly detail), less mindful people showed an intense dislike for foreigners that mention what's wrong with the United States (pro-U.S. bias), greater prejudice against black managers who discriminated against a white employee in a promotion decision (pro-white bias), 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.

"What we found was that when asked to deeply contemplate their death, mindful people spent more time writing (as opposed to avoiding) and used more death-related words when reflecting on the experience. This suggests that a greater openness to processing the threat of death allows compassion and fairness to reign. In this laboratory staged battle, mindfulness alters the power that death holds over us," Kashdan says.


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Contact: Tara Laskowski
tlaskows@gmu.edu
703-993-8815
George Mason University
Source:Eurekalert

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