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Thinking about mortality could influence the different beliefs

Different beliefsResearchers have found that the strength of the belief on mortality could influence the different groups of thoughts or beliefs.

This research was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In this study, researchers conducted a number of experiments to check the relationship between awareness of death and belief in higher power. They found that the different religions and beliefs have their own strong views related to the thoughts of death as for example contrary to the popular saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, even the thoughts of death didn’t cause atheists to show belief in a deity.

“Our study suggests that atheists’ and religious believers’ world views have the same practical goal,” Kenneth Vail, lead author and doctoral student in psychological science in MU’s College of Arts and Science, said in a statement. “Both groups seek a coherent world view to manage the fear of death and link themselves to a greater and immortal entity, such as a supreme being, scientific progress or a nation. If people were more aware of this psychological similarity, perhaps there might be more understanding and less conflict among groups with different beliefs.”

Researchers conducted a series of three experiments by first encouraging the thoughts of death in the participants and then analyzing the responses through a questionnaire. In one of the experiments done on Christians and atheists, researchers found that the awareness of death increased the belief of Christians on God and the denial of the other traditions and beliefs while atheists remained adhere to their worldly views and there was no increase in denial of other beliefs. In the second experiment conducted in Iran on Muslims, researchers found that the awareness to the death increased Muslims’ belief on ALLAH and denial of the other traditions. In the third experiment, researchers found that the belief on a higher power increased in the agnostics. However, it didn’t increase their denial of ALLAH, Buddha, God or Jesus.

“In our study, individuals’ minds appeared to rally around certain personal guiding concepts when faced with fear of death,” said Vail. “Agnostics seemed to hedge their spiritual bets. They believed more firmly in a higher power. Yet at the same time, they expressed continued belief that the specific nature of that power was beyond human knowledge.”

Researchers wrote, “The studies tested three potential theoretical explanations and were consistent with terror management theory’s worldview defense hypothesis. Theoretical implications are discussed.”


Vail, K., Arndt, J., & Abdollahi, A. (2012). Exploring the Existential Function of Religion and Supernatural Agent Beliefs Among Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and Agnostics Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38 (10), 1288-1300 DOI: said in a statement

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