Penetrating the Circle of Death: Why People are Dying (and Killing) Not to Die

However, not all TMT findings have been as bleak as those we have summarized. Just as human culture can contain good and evil elements, ranging from beautiful art to xenophobic tendencies, death as a key existential motivator can spur us on to lofty heights as well as dark depths. Recent directions in TMT research have indicated that reminders of mortality can sometimes motivate pro-social actions, as one excellent way to obtain symbolic immortality in most cultures is to establish a reputation for generosity and selflessness. Thus in some experiments MS participants have been more willing to donate to charities, or simply help out friends in day-to-day situations (e.g., Jonas et al., 2002). Other research hints at the possibility that there may be non-defensive ways that people can come to terms with their mortality (Cozzolino et al., 2004).

Even though TMT lays bare our deepest fears and most violent or inhumane tendencies, consideration of this dark side of life may be a necessary step for the science of humanity to one day disrupt the destructive circular influence of death on our lives. To quote a motto Becker (1975) paraphrased from novelist and poet Thomas Hardy: "If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst."



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