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    As Death Nears, Atheists Less Likely To Deny Religion
    By News Staff | April 2nd 2012 11:30 AM | 51 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Atheists like to think they are more rational people but, as death approaches, they secretly play the irrational odds, according to new work which suggests that when even non-religious people think about their own death and consciously still seem to be more skeptical about religion, they unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief.  Or at least less likely to deny it. 

    The work from the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, predictably also found that when religious people think about death, their religious beliefs appear to strengthen at both conscious and unconscious levels. They believe these findings help explain why religion remains a durable feature of human society. 


    In three studies, which involved 265 university students in total, religious and non-religious participants were randomly assigned to 'death priming' and control groups. The 'priming' involved asking participants to write about their own death or, in the control condition, about watching TV. 

    In the first study, researchers found that death-primed religious participants consciously reported greater belief in religious entities than similar participants who had not been death-primed. Non-religious participants who had been primed showed the opposite effect: they reported greater disbelief than their fellow non-religious participants in the control condition.


    How do they measure such a result? The techniques used to study unconscious beliefs were measuring the speed with which participants can affirm or deny the existence of God and other religious entities. After being primed by thoughts of death, religious participants were faster to press a button to affirm God's existence, but non-religious participants were slower to press a button denying God's existence.

    Co-author Jamin Halberstadt says these results fit with the theory that fear of death prompts people to defend their own worldview, regardless of whether it is a religious or non-religious one. "However, when we studied people's unconscious beliefs in the two later experiments, a different picture emerged. While death-priming made religious participants more certain about the reality of religious entities, non-religious participants showed less confidence in their disbelief.

    "These findings may help solve part of the puzzle of why religion is such a persistent and pervasive feature of society. Fear of death is a near-universal human experience and religious beliefs are suspected to play an important psychological role in warding off this anxiety. As we now show, these beliefs operate at both a conscious and unconscious level, allowing even avowed atheists to unconsciously take advantage of them."

    The paper co-authors also included Jonathan Jong, currently at the University of Oxford, who undertook the experiments as part of his PhD thesis, and Matthias Bluemke, currently at the University of Heidelberg. Associate Professor Halberstadt was Jong's supervisor.

    The findings will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

    Comments

    This story makes no sense, and seems totally disorganized. Maybe a big chunk is missing? To start with, the headline is just wrong, i.e. not supported in any way by the article. In fact, it says the "results fit with the theory that fear of death prompts people to defend their own worldview, regardless of whether it is a religious or non-religious one." Then another part talks about unconscious beliefs based on the speed of hitting a button. In response to what? Still no "denial" as the headline proclaims. Sounds like crap science, and worse journalism about it.

    Hank
    non-religious participants were slower to press a button denying God's existence.
    "As Death Nears, Atheists Less Likely To Deny Religion"

    So how would you write it?
    Gerhard Adam
    In three studies, which involved 265 university students in total...
    That says it all for me.  This is another nonsense "study" that is claimed as science.  Any claims by psychology need to be significantly more rigorous if they want to avoid being made fun of.  This one is definitely amateur hour.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard, your prejudice against psychology is fairly clear. While I agree that some/a lot of social psychology research can be a bit flaky, not all of it is. However, drawing conclusions based on your own prejudices is not very scientific.
    Also, why do you dismiss a study on the grounds that it "involved 265 university students"? Apparently "that says it all" for you. Why is that a criterion for dismissing the results from a study? Seems to me you are judging the quality of research on some unscientific grounds. Are university students not real people? Are they not representative? Given how many people now attend universities I would argue that the student population, more than almost any other identifiable group, is more representative of the general population on a raft of measures. I’ll admit that it fails on age, but even that is changing. Furthermore, much research with human participants relies of students. Are students somehow fundamentally different from the rest of the population?
    Perhaps you think the sample too small? How large should a sample be? Funny, I tend to use statistical methods to estimate sample sizes and often require samples much smaller than 265. Am I doing something wrong? Please enlighten me. I always thought that if you could find significant results with a small sample, the effect must be reasonably big. I'd be much less impressed if an effect size was so small that you needed a million participants to detect it.
    Finally (and I apologise but I haven't read the paper), could you please tell me why the study isn't science? What are the breaches or deviations from the scientific method that make this not-science?

    Gerhard Adam
    Why is that a criterion for dismissing the results from a study? Seems to me you are judging the quality of research on some unscientific grounds. Are university students not real people?
    You don't ask people questions that don't actually have any "skin in the game".  College students are about as far removed from understanding death as asking elementary school children.

    By most estimates the brain isn't even mature until age 25 [or even older] and yet we're going to ask these individuals their thoughts on death?  Why not high-schoolers? 

    I will even make a prediction, sight unseen, that you would get vastly different answers from the college students versus those that are the same age currently serving in Afghanistan.  Why do you suppose that is?

    We all know the adage, "talk is cheap" and it doesn't come any cheaper than from people that can't even conceive of the subject in real terms.  If you want to find out about death, ask people in hospitals.  Ask the elderly.  As those that actually risk death.  You don't ask people that view it as an abstraction that they can address between classes.

    If you don't think it's a relevant point.  Why not conduct a study to determine the attitudes that govern the decision to have an abortion [or not] and confine it to asking only men.  See how scientific those results are.  It's like asking people their opinion about raising children when they've never had any... or about being pregnant when they've never been pregnant.  It's a ridiculous attempt at a "study".

    Ultimately it's the difference between being in a flight simulator versus an airplane when the controls go out.  Anyone can be brave [or a smart-ass] in the simulator.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm sorry, but there is a world of difference between 'asking a man about a decision to have an abortion' (a decision he will NEVER have to make) and asking a student (and keep in mind that I am unsure how old they were) about death (which is something they ALL have to face). Death for a 22-year old is just as real as death to someone with terminal cancer. The study is about finding out if views change if you are primed to think about death. Your soldiers in Afghanistan are very death-primed, so yes, their views will likely be different again (although without data you are just speculating). But that doesn't mean that a 22-year-old student can't have a view on death. Is their view any less valid? What makes you the judge? No, this isn’t post-modern bollix, views on death are inherently subjective, thus no more real
    You raise an interesting point though and perhaps worth studying: do these findings replicate in elementary school children; 'high-schoolers'; those serving in Afghanistan; those in hospital with terminal and non-terminal illnesses? Perhaps this is the start of an interesting set of studies with other populations. Just looking at one study without context is a bit narrow-minded.
    Finally, there is nothing intrinsically unscientific about asking people without children their opinion about raising children, or asking men to imagine what it would be like to have an abortion, or someone who isn't pregnant to imagine what it's like to be pregnant. It would be interesting to see how those responses correlate with those who do have children, are pregnant, do have abortions.

    Gerhard Adam
    Death for a 22-year old is just as real as death to someone with terminal cancer.
    You can't be serious.  It is NEVER as real as the individual that has to actually face it.  Even for adults it is an abstraction until they are slammed in the face with the reality of it.  The failure to acknowledge even that aspect of it speaks volumes about how much psychology fails to relate to actual people.
    ...(although without data you are just speculating).
    I said as much, but I added the point that I was willing to make that prediction, "sight unseen".
    But that doesn't mean that a 22-year-old student can't have a view on death. Is their view any less valid?
    Certainly they can have a view, it just doesn't make it relevant simply because they belong to the species; homo sapiens.
    Finally, there is nothing intrinsically unscientific about asking people without children their opinion about raising children, or asking men to imagine what it would be like to have an abortion, or someone who isn't pregnant to imagine what it's like to be pregnant.
    Unscientific?  Perhaps not.  However, it doesn't make it particularly interesting or relevant in any capacity.  So if one did conduct such a study, then one should also be prepared to have it criticized as asking the wrong people the wrong questions.
    Just looking at one study without context is a bit narrow-minded.
    ... and yet this "study" did precisely that ... three times.  They never once considered varying their subjects, so they simply engaged in the easiest course of action to come up with the least relevant way of evaluating the data;  those that have the least likely exposure to a sense of what death is.

    In the end, you can rationalize this study however you like, but don't be offended when people like me come along and laugh at the amateurish nature of it, and sneer at the silliness of a bunch of people calmly sitting around discussing a topic that would make them soil themselves if they actually had to face it. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    You can't be serious. It is NEVER as real as the individual that has to actually face it. Even for adults it is an abstraction until they are slammed in the face with the reality of it.

    Death is real for anyone. The only difference is the timing. That doesn't mean that someone, who (thinks) their time is still distant (and no-one really knows when that is), can't have real views about death. You are saying that if they do, it’s not relevant or important, which is nonsense.

    it just doesn't make it relevant simply because they belong to the species; homo sapiens

    Why not?? I really don't understand your point. This study wanted to find out what people's views on the existence of god is when 'death-primed'. Admittedly their priming is probably mild, and given the methodology there are other plausible interpretations of the results (as discussed in these comments), but they found an effect so there is something going on. That is interesting. There is nothing unscientific about it - which was your initial comment to which I was responding.

    Unscientific? Perhaps not. However, it doesn't make it particularly interesting or relevant in any capacity.

    Well, that depends entirely on your research question. You might not find it interesting or relevant, I would. In this case the question appears to be, 'do people's views about god change if you prime them for death?' Sure, chucking them into a minefield would be a better way to death-prime them, but I think the ethics committee might have some issue with that.

    They never once considered varying their subjects, so they simply engaged in the easiest course of action to come up with the least relevant way of evaluating the data

    How on earth do you know they never considered it? How do you know what they will do in the future. Perhaps this is the first set of studies in a long line of research.

    In the end, you can rationalize this study however you like, but don't be offended when people like me come along and laugh at the amateurish nature of it, and sneer at the silliness of a bunch of people calmly sitting around discussing a topic that would make them soil themselves if they actually had to face it.

    I'm not rationalising the study. I was merely pointing out that your criticism of it (ie, not being scientific) was not sound. You have yet to demonstrate that this study was unscientific, as you claim.
    And how do you know these people would "soil themselves" if faced with death. Again, pure speculation.

    Gerhard Adam
    OK, fine.  In my view it's a wasted question on a group of people that has nothing particularly important to say on the topic.  So, as I said.  If the purpose is for psychological studies to be taken seriously, then they'll need to be more relevant.

    As it stands, the result of this study, could've been gained by simply randomly surveying people on the street.  No need to anything formal.  No need for any controls.  It's just an opinion piece.

    However, it isn't science.

    The article closed with:
    "These findings may help solve part of the puzzle of why religion is such a persistent and pervasive feature of society."
    They answered nothing of the sort.  They got the opinion of a bunch of college kids.   That's it.

    The subtle irony of it is that they don't seem to realize that were looking at a "feature of society" from a group that hasn't even become full-fledged members yet.

    BTW ... there's actually a simpler reason why the study isn't scientific and that's simply that the question being asked isn't scientific.  It isn't subject to a hypothesis, it isn't subject to testing, and it isn't subject to prediction and replication.  Again, it's a social sport and that's why it has no credibility.

    [NOTE:  Consider that you can't even predict that you'd get the same results from the same students in one years time.  How is that scientific?]
    Mundus vult decipi
    "As it stands, the result of this study, could've been gained by simply randomly surveying people on the street. No need to anything formal. No need for any controls. It's just an opinion piece."

    Rubbish, but nice straw-man. Sure, if we take the controls away and just ask people in the street what they think it would be what you describe...
    But that is not what this is.
    "However, it isn't science."

    My original question remains unanswered. Why was it not science? I have now asked you several times to demonstrate that this isn't science. You can keep repeating your mantra 'it isn't science, it isn’t science', but that doesn't make it true. Evidence please.

    "They got the opinion of a bunch of college kids. That's it."
    No they didn't, they manipulated a variable (and you can argue that it was a weak manipulation), and they found that the manipulation led to a change in an outcome. It's not just 'getting the opinions of a bunch of college kids'. By the way, when does someone stop being a 'kid' in your opinion?

    "The subtle irony of it is that they don't seem to realize that were looking at a "feature of society" from a group that hasn't even become full-fledged members yet."

    Huh? Now you're starting to sound like a loon. Students aren't members of society? So when does someone become a card-carrying member of society?

    Hank
    My original question remains unanswered. Why was it not science? I have now asked you several times to demonstrate that this isn't science. 
    Science is explaining the world according to natural laws. It has a theoretical underpinning - not speculative, not hypothetical, not finding data to match something you want to 'prove' and declaring it proven when you find it.

    You may simply contend 'I choose to have a different definition of science' and, conveniently, this study may match it.  But that is why social sciences are located in the humanities buildings on most universities and not among the science ones - people in the social sciences accept no responsibility or accountability for science methods, they just want the trappings and legitimacy it infers.  But it does not work that way.
    "Science is explaining the world according to natural laws. It has a theoretical underpinning."
    I agree. I don't have a different definition. However, sometimes interesting observations (without solid theoretical foundations can result in research questions, which become testable hypotheses, which become well-supported theories.

    "not speculative, not hypothetical, not finding data to match something you want to 'prove' and declaring it proven when you find it."

    But the paper we are discussing doesn't do that!!

    "But that is why social sciences are located in the humanities buildings on most universities and not among the science ones"

    Not sure what to make of that. Is Psychology not a science? Sure, some psychologists are not scientists, but that doesn't mean psychology is not a science. In many Universities psychology can be studied through the arts or science faculties. Sure there are psychologists who do bad science, but that can be said for any of the sciences. Scientific misconduct does not happen solely in psychology. It's rife in biology and medicine. Are they not sciences?

    Gerhard Adam
    But the paper we are discussing doesn't do that!
    You have a link to the paper in question?

    BTW, here's an interesting viewpoint to read.
    http://www.arachnoid.com/psychology/index.html
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Not sure what to make of that. Is Psychology not a science? Sure, some psychologists are not scientists, but that doesn't mean psychology is not a science.
    Psychology, anthropology, etc. basically had to be given their own classification - social sciences.  Now, we have an entire social sciences section here, and this is Science 2.0, but surveying undergraduates is not science, and that is what far too much of modern psychology is.   

    There is neuroscience, of course.  Psychology lacks any theoretical grounding currently.  Obviously psychology happens that is not relational to biology so it would be just as silly to declare those goofy fMRI imaging studies solid science. Psychology will become more scientific but medicine is not science, nor is engineering - both remain intensely valuable to society.
    What do you mean by this: "Psychology will become more scientific"?
    Does a discipline become more 'scientific' when it's theories become more established/accepted?
    I thought science was the process by which we get to those theories.
    Would you consider behaviourism a science?

    Hank
    As a psychology legend put it humorously, "we basically have a science of undergraduates." Surveys cannot be science.  Applied psychology, as I said, has terrific value - clever marketing campaigns are a result of understanding that people do things and they find ways to make that happen.  But the why of behavior is not yet science - it can't be.  There are too many variables.

    A discipline becomes more scientific when it has a theory that is at least understandable and accepted by its practitioners.  Psychology does not have that. When the only known theory of a field has been completely debunked, along with the most famous practitioner (Freud), you are not yet science.  Medicine was not real until the 1850s either but there were lots of people in medicine claiming medicine was real before then, even though they believed in spontaneous generation of diseases.

    200 years from now people will look at the woo produced by psychology today the same way doctors regard curing headaches with leeches and skull drilling 200 years ago.


    "When the only known theory of a field has been completely debunked, along with the most famous practitioner (Freud), you are not yet science."

    Really, that is your benchmark - Freud and psychodynamics?
    You don't think behaviourist developed a better theory, albeit incomplete, that goes at least some way in explaining the 'why' of behaviour?

    "200 years from now people will look at the woo produced by psychology today"

    Sure, I agree and the cognitive models that exist today will be looked at and laughed at in 200 years from now, but I think the process of developing those models is quite different from the how they got to 'curing headaches with leeches and skull drilling'. I thought it was the process that made something scientific, but clearly I do have a different understanding of what science is.
    Funny, Richard Feynman seemed to regard psychology as a science. If anyone was going to take an axe to Psychology, surely he would have.

    Gerhard Adam
    Huh? Now you're starting to sound like a loon. Students aren't members of society? So when does someone become a card-carrying member of society?
    If you don't know the answer to that, then I suspect you're in the age group in question.  However, that aside.

    The study is unscientific because the query itself isn't a scientific one.  There is nothing meaningful one can deduce from individual's beliefs.  At its most positive interpretation it might be considered a philosophical question.

    It should be apparent to everyone [including psychologists] that views of death will vary widely based on people's ages, experience, etc.  Therefore differing attitudes will occur between young people [to whom death is a distant abstraction], to someone in middle age [where death can be a familial catastrophe] to old age [where death may be a welcome relief].  These are all vastly different perspectives that can readily be held by the same individual and yet the study took absolutely no account of such diverse circumstances.

    However, even if we consider a radically less ambitious study, the question itself doesn't articulate a hypothesis that is tested in terms of predictability.  Since any individual can respond in any contradictory way they desire [because it's all subjective] then almost anyone can be said to falsify the premises.  In short, even if it were 100% accurate, it tells us nothing about actual people.  It is merely a subjective guess as to how people may [or may not] behave.

    There's nothing remotely scientific about that.  This is precisely why psychology isn't considered a science, because soft social questions are nearly impossible to articulate into the rigor necessary for scientific testing and when it is flawed by such a blatant disregard for actual human experience, it is simply a joke.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "There is nothing meaningful one can deduce from individual's beliefs"

    You don't think beliefs play an incredibly important role in how we behave, and can be used to predict behaviour?
    You don't think believing in creationism or intelligent design has serious and quite predictable outcomes? You don't think they can be explained by theory?
    If you had said, there is no easy way of measuring what someone believes, then I'm right with you. That is why behaviourism emerged.

    "Since any individual can respond in any contradictory way they desire [because it's all subjective] then almost anyone can be said to falsify the premises. In short, even if it were 100% accurate, it tells us nothing about actual people."

    So meteorology is not a science because they can't predict with 100% accuracy what the actual weather will be tomorrow?
    Geology is not science, because they can't predict with 100% accuracy when an actual earthquake will strike a particular region?

    "This is precisely why psychology isn't considered a science"
    By whom?

    Gerhard Adam
    Are you being serious?
    You don't think beliefs play an incredibly important role in how we behave, and can be used to predict behaviour?
    OK, I'll play.  Give me the psychological theory of belief systems.  I've written plenty of articles on belief systems, but they are invariably philosophical and have little basis for making scientific claims.  There could be a tenuous connection to neurophysiology and how the neurons organize themselves, but that's certainly not well known and even then, there's nothing to correlate that to an actual concept of "belief system".  Hell, some people are still fighting the mind/body dualism argument.  What does psychology say about that?
    You don't think believing in creationism or intelligent design has serious and quite predictable outcomes.
    Makes no difference.  Just because it might be important or have consequences doesn't make it science.  Economics isn't science.  Mathematics isn't science.  That's just the way it is. 
    So meteorology is not a science because they can't predict with 100% accuracy what the actual weather will be tomorrow?
    You do realize that predicting the weather is NOT what meteorology is about, right?  The science associated with meteorology is to predict how specific weather phenomenon behaves, which is precisely why we can understand things like what causes tropical storms to become hurricanes, etc.  There's nothing in meteorology to suggest that there is a theory about the path a storm will necessarily take.
    Geology is not science, because they can't predict with 100% accuracy when an actual earthquake will strike a particular region?
    Again, geology is not the science of "earthquake prediction".  There is a scientific explanation for what gives rise to earthquakes, but there has never been any assertion that we have the means to be able to monitor all the potential shifting points.

    Again, you seem to be misunderstanding what science is about.  The fields you mentioned are science because they have a theoretical framework against which they conduct research and which represents a criteria which can be used to improve and refine scientific knowledge.  You're attempting to argue against it by some trivial example of predicting rain at the beach. 

    However, psychology has no such theoretical framework.  There is no "theory of psychology", which is precisely why psychology has gotten itself into so much trouble with some of its nonsense assertions [recovered memories, facilitated communications, etc.].


    Mundus vult decipi
    "You do realize that predicting the weather is NOT what meteorology is about, right?"

    Of course, that was exactly my point. I thought you were suggesting (in your earlier comment that I responded to) that psychology isn't a science because it can't make 100% accurate predictions about an individual's behaviour, which to me is like saying, meteorology isn't a science because it can't predict individual weather events. Ditto for geology.

    Okay, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying that because psychology doesn't have a have a solid and unifying theoretical framework against which to conduct research, it isn't a science. If so, then I admit that I have a different understanding of what ‘science’ is. But isn't that what (at least some, not all, granted) psychologists are trying to develop? Isn't that in part what science is about - developing that theoretical frame-work.
    Also, I would argue that that is exactly what the behaviourists were doing.
    As for the quip about recovered memories etc, sure, but do we judge an entire discipline on some bad examples.

    Gerhard Adam
    Isn't that in part what science is about - developing that theoretical frame-work.
    No.  Without it, there is no science.  If you used that criteria then all manner of nonsense gets to claim "scientific" credentials.  Should parapsychology be considered a science simply because they claim they are still trying to develop a theoretical frame-work?  How about astrology?

    Until there is a theoretical frame-work there is no science.  You can't make up a subject and then look for a theory.  It's the theory that drives the need for a classification as a particular science.
    ...psychology isn't a science because it can't make 100% accurate predictions about an individual's behaviour...
    No, let's be clear.  It can make NO predictions beyond those that could be arrived at by chance.  There's literally nothing to predict because any given individual can always simply change their mind.  You can't simply claim that religious people's belief is strengthened, since I could make that claim without the study and I don't need a theory for it either.  Similarly I could claim that atheists are firm in their view, or they become doubtful.  Again, no study or theory necessary.  I would have as much chance of being right as the authors of this study.
    As for the quip about recovered memories etc, sure, but do we judge an entire discipline on some bad examples.
    Bad examples?  This wasn't some paper that got laughed at during a conference.  These were people that set themselves up as scientists and professionals in a court of law and ruined people's lives and sent people to prison.  It's a tad more than a "bad example".  The were the worst of the worst, because the fancied themselves to be "scientists" because they thought their opinions were worth more than actual data.  In my view they were criminals.

    So, how much would you like to bet that there are still psychologists out there practicing "recovered memories"?  Have their peers stepped in to police the profession?  No, because there's no theory, so anything goes.
    http://www.jimhopper.com/memory/
    So this nitwit can proceed with his claims, despite having no scientific theory to base any of his ideas on.  This is why psychology isn't science.  [If you don't believe me, read the "Words of Caution" section.  If that doesn't make you gag on how "scientific" it is, then nothing will].  Also ask yourself what he might say if asked to testify in a case and how much credence he should be given to potentially send someone to prison.

    BTW, you mentioned Feynman earlier.   I'd stop doing that, since Feynman thought psychology was a cargo cult science.  In short, he equated them with witch doctors that didn't have any idea of what they were doing.
    http://www.rationalskepticism.org/psychology/richard-feynman-briefly-on-psychology-t967.html
    Mundus vult decipi
    No, let's be clear. It can make NO predictions beyond those that could be arrived at by chance. There's literally nothing to predict because any given individual can always simply change their mind.
    Behavioursim makes quite good predictions about behaviour – No need to worry about minds, or changing them.
    “Bad examples? This wasn't some paper that got laughed at during a conference. These were people that set themselves up as scientists and professionals in a court of law and ruined people's lives and sent people to prison. It's a tad more than a "bad example".”
    Sure, but I’m sure we can think of ‘bad biologists’ and ‘bad physicists’ who have made claims that don’t stack up and in the process have ruined lives. That doesn’t mean physics is bad.
    “BTW, you mentioned Feynman earlier. I'd stop doing that, since Feynman thought psychology was a cargo cult science. In short, he equated them with witch doctors that didn't have any idea of what they were doing.”
    Nope, Feynman talks about specific examples in psychology or psychological studies that are cargo cult science. Not psychology as a discipline. Your link refers to psychoanalysis and psychiatry, but I am very familiar with his views on psychology.

    Thank you (and to Hank) for your comments - it's given me much to think about and I have come to the horrid realisation that my psychology education has been woefully inadequate by failing to point these things out and making claims to science. Perhaps things will change.
    I do still disagree with you on some points (ie, there is no reason why a 22-year-old can't have views on death that are any better or worse than an 80-year-old, because neither really know anything about it and therefore there is nothing wrong per se about asking 22-year-olds - of course that only holds for those 22-year-olds and is therefore).

    Apologies if my comments caused offense.

    Gerhard Adam
    No offense taken

    However, to your point about 22 year olds and 80 year olds.  There's the basis for an evaluation in establishing whether there are equivalent ideas and views between the two age groups.  In fact, it would be worthwhile to survey people over a number of years to find out precisely how their viewpoints might change.  That type of information could begin to highlight exactly how equivalent people's views are depending on the context of their own lives.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Death is real for anyone. The only difference is the timing. That doesn't mean that someone, who (thinks) their time is still distant (and no-one really knows when that is), can't have real views about death. You are saying that if they do, it’s not relevant or important, which is nonsense.
    So, you think it would be perfectly reasonable to have an 80 year old individual given "death counseling" [or even grief counseling] by a 22 year old college student?  After all, you're claiming that their views and opinions are equally valid and relevant.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Utter nonsense. "Death Primed" fer crying out loud unless you are actually dying you can't possibly know how you are going to react. They took a group of college students - first mistake there - who , for the most part, probably have never been in serious danger/risk of dying in their lives and hope to equate that to someone terminally ill and hours/days from death? I don't think so. The problem with university students is that they are at their most most intellectually impressible age - most have probably come from a religious (in some sense or other) background and those who now proclaim their atheism are likely, in some sense, not doing it out of well formed thought but out of rebellion against the established authority. Conviction will follow later.

    B.S. from some religious folk who wish it were so.

    Hank
    Sure. Remember this methodology when social psychology makes claims about religious people too.
    Something which stands out to me is the fact that when not "death primed", non-religious people stick to what they "know" / feel. When "death primed" (emotional change), they press the "God doesn't exist" button slower than they normally would. This to me says it's an emotional response, not a purely phylisophical cognitive response.

    And when we start making life decisions based on emotion, then (in my book at least), mistakes are made.

    So to me (being an Atheist, yay !), this reaffirms my position and "belief", in that it says to me that religious people believe what they do on an emotional level mostly (at least I think so, they can't stave anything with facts now can they).

    My 2c.

    Hank
    Yep, that is good insight.  There are numerous flaws in this but if we're going to put up social psychology articles claiming you are racist if your office is neat, we have to put up stuff about atheists too.  Why are those two correlated?  They aren't, that's what makes social psychology so fun.
    Oh I agree we should put up stuff about any group of people and/or topic. However without trying to nitpick too much, I'm just trying to see things in the "correct context". Raw data (study outcomes) still have to be interpreted. In this study I posit as previously stated that the "results" are based on emotional responses (you're going to DIE !!). One can do another study where emotional aspects are taken out completely. Would be interesting to see how the religious people would respond to that one after having been "primed" with a bit of logic and science about what we as humans actually know and don't know.

    Gerhard Adam
    The premise of discussing death with college undergrads is no way to conduct a study like this.  There is nothing to interpret since the source of the data is already tainted.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm not with you. You get college kids to think about their inevitable demise and ask them if they believe in God yes or no. How is the source of the data already tainted and in what way ?

    Gerhard Adam
    At that age, it's too much of an abstraction.  Regardless of what they say, they have no basis for relating to it as a possible event.  It's tainted.

    They have nothing that could be considered life experience.  They have no career history, family history, obligations, etc.   In short, they're still kids.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Isn't this a bit late for an April fool's joke?

    John Hasenkam
    If you are looking for a scientific study of behavior then you might consider reading the Journal of the Expermental Analysis of Behavior. It's mundane, no grand theories there, lots of measurements though ... . It is impossible to build a model of human behavior, the best we can hope for is insight into specific behaviors in specific circumstances. It is NP too bloody hard. Behavior is not just about what happens inside us, to correctly understand behavior you have to understand all the relevant environmental contingencies which we can never anticipate hence cannot model. 
    I have often read that BF Skinner is cursed by many. I do not know why, Skinner was trying to resurrect psychology from the perils of folk psychology, of using everyday concepts to explain behavior. He believed that psychologists don't do enough "philosophical plumbing" and hence get caught up in analytic strategies that reveal bugger all about behavior. If the last 50 years is any guide he must have been onto something. Behaviorism is not a model of behavior, it is a method for exploring behavior. Skinner wanted everyone to go back to square one. Few have. 
    And TMT seems to be explaining behavior pretty well.

    Gerhard Adam
    Based on what?  What does it explain?  What does it predict?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    It still isn't explaining anything.  Basically it says that when death becomes salient, then you will tend to more strictly adhere to your beliefs and cultural values.  OK, I'll bite. 

    So what?  Most of the article simply makes statements that are vague enough to be generally true, and provide absolutely no information [except speculation] as to what is occurring.

    Most of the discussion is naive and silly.
    Mundus vult decipi
    These where some of the first experiments. I belive there are 400 plus studies now. What I'm hypothesizing is that if death anxiety is the root cause of our actions immortality would cause a huge paradigm shift in our actions. The idea of death would no longer be the motivating factor for our actions. It's scary to think of living for a unset amount of time. I'm not saying that I know what it will be like. But I have tried to show that without death a few things should disappear. Faith being one of them. We could also give value to a system. Instead of god setting the value of actions. I'm not even saying it's possible to achive immortality. What I'm trying to show is that our thinking would suddenly change drastically. How would we view pain if it no longer was a threat to our survival.

    Gerhard Adam
    Jacob, I can see that you're quite serious and sincere about this issue regarding death, but let me point out the severe problems with your thesis and why it can never work.

    While it is convenient to speak of death, it isn't truly something that can be as readily defined as our usage of it implies.  It isn't that death isn't definable, it's simply that we usually aren't actually talking about death, but rather the means by which death occurs.  You even alluded to it in your post, when you made the reference to pain.

    So, the problem you're trying to resolve is "death anxiety" and your logic suggests that if we can eliminate death, then we will have changed the philosophical dynamic of human existence.  This would undoubtedly be true, if it were possible, but let's phrase the question so that it is more accurate.

    We can't eliminate death, because we can't eliminate all the means by which death occurs.  Perhaps we can eliminate death by aging, but we still have to contend with disease and accident [assuming that all other origins of death are eliminating; genetic defect, etc.].  Again, if we eliminate death from disease, we can't really eliminate death by accident [or human caused]. 

    For example, I can't envision any technology that renders the act of living completely safe to the point of excluding death or injury.  Since it is possible to get injured, then it follows that one could get injured severely enough to cause death.  Therefore, your proposed conquest of death would also require conquest of anything that could injure us. 

    Let's also note that coma, vegetative states, paralysis, etc. are all non-death states, but I seriously doubt that those would be considered much of a victory in "conquering death".  In a different vein, it would also raise the philosophical question as to whether eliminating death would actually increase the suffering in the world.

    In order to achieve such objectives, you can see that it isn't simply a matter of biology, but also a matter of controlling all the intermediate variables that could cause death.  This effectively would require absolutely control of everything with which an individual comes into contact with.  Again ... simply not possible, because anything capable of controlling everything, would itself require control, in an infinite chain of controllers.

    Many of the other requirements would also require unrealistic levels of control, such as the elimination of diseases, full control of genetics to avoid defects, etc. 

    In short, we would have to have 100% control of the individual.  However, who would have this control without themselves being subject to such controls?  Again, this is just another infinite chain of controllers.

    You may argue that it doesn't need to be that complete or complex, but without it, there is a possibility of error, and with that the possibility of death.  Once that occurs, then it will be the definitive source of your "death anxiety" and all the effort will be wasted.

    Therefore, the only real solution is to address "death anxiety" directly, which is precisely what philosophy and religion attempt to do.  It's no coincidence, that the significance to these two areas persists throughout human history. 

    So while you can entertain "what if" scenarios about how life might be different without death, I think a practical consideration must be what is required to actually address your problem, versus scientific fiction scenarios that have no chance of succeeding [or even if they did, are so far out into an unpredictable future as to render them meaningless].
    Mundus vult decipi
    We could use Kants arguments. Kant's Thoughts On Immortality

    He writes, "Metaphysics has as the proper object of its enquiries three ideas only: God, freedom, and immortality-so related that the second concept when combined with the first, should lead to the third as a necessary conclusion." Kant believes that our goal in life is to strive for the perfect good of happiness proportional to virtue. He says we have to continue to strive for this goal which would not last long with the death of our mortal body. "This infinite progress is possible, however, only under the presupposition of an infinitely enduring existence and personality of the same rational being; this is called the immortality of the soul."

    I see both sides. Yes it might be a awful thing to never die. But I also can see adding new meaning to life. As you mentioned in your article on infinity. It's something we can't quite grasp. I'm willing to at least try it. If I don't like it I have infinity to figure out how to undue it. Haha maybe that will give meaning to our life's. Maybe we could have limited eternal life. Where only we could chose to end our existence.

    Thank you Hank. By the response and the questions. I can see you grasped what I was trying to say. Most people think that I just decided I wanted immortality because I didnt want to die. But really I was trying to build a moral code. Immortality was the only way to solve it. Sorry for the word salads you had to read. That's what a 7 grade formal education gets you.

    Gerhard Adam
    Wow ... after all that posting, you thank Hank?  :) 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Haha. Wow I screwed that up. I Can't even blame spell checker On that one. I think it's because it always says Hank replied in my email inbox.

    Gerhard Adam
    I know ... I'm just messing with you.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What a depressing day in the news. I guess Nietzsche was right. Hope is the worst of all evils for it prolongs the suffering of man. Those of us who have not shot ourselves in the head are either delusional or cowards. I am a coward who wonders is everone else really so delusional? Or are we just telling each other that life is worth living when we all know we remain alive because nature has selected for those who fear death the most, and nobody wants to look scared. To me it seems like saying I meant to do that after a gross error or pretending to enjoy the flogging you are recieving for appearances sake. Does the flogged man live for the spaces between the lash? Or does he live for when the lashing is done and he can finally crawl away and die knowing he made a good show of bravery? Either way the whole thing was just torture