Death… it’s someone else’s problem! How the human brain is wired to stop you thinking about your own demise by making you believe you’ll live forever

  • Researchers at Bar Ilan University in Israel studied participants’ brain signals
  • When a person saw their picture with words related to death, their brain shut off 
  • Mechanism starts from an early age to stop an onslaught of morbid thoughts

The human brain is wired make us believe that death only happens to other people to stop us obsessing about the inevitable.

Researchers found that by banishing thoughts of death, people are able to enjoy life in the moment and not worry about what will happen in the future. 

As children begin to understand that everybody dies, the mechanism switches on to stop an onslaught of morbid thoughts.

The human brain is wired make us believe that death only happens to other people to stop us obsessing about the inevitable, researchers at Bar Ilan University in Israel found (stock image)

Yair Dor-Ziderman, a graduate student at Bar Ilan University in Israel, told The Guardian: ‘We have this primal mechanism that means when the brain gets information that links self to death, something tells us it’s not reliable, so we shouldn’t believe it.’

Participants in the study were shown either their own face, or the face of a stranger, on a screen multiple times in succession.

The last image, however, was a completely different face.

This allowed researchers to examine ‘surprise’ signals in the brain, as the last image was not what was expected to follow in the sequence.

Words were shown above the faces. They were words related to death, such as ‘funeral’, 50 per cent of the time.

These sorts of words appearing next to someone’s own face caused the brain’s prediction system shut off as it was unable to put itself together with the idea of death. 

As children begin to understand that everybody dies, the mechanism switches on to stop an onslaught of morbid thoughts (stock image)

Scientists who conducted the study, that will be published next month in NeuroImage, saw no ‘surprise’ signals at all when this pairing appeared.

Mr Dor-Ziderman added that years ago, death was faced much more regularly than it is now acting as a counterbalance to the brains defences against morbid thoughts.

But nowadays, death is much less commonplace. Because people know less about it, they are more scared of it.

Yet, while people are more apprehensive about the realities of death, this doesn’t mean they aren’t still entertained by visual depictions of it.

A 2014 study found that people exposed to blood and guts in film clips showed higher levels of attention the more extreme the content became – even though the people watching admitted to being disgusted.

A total of 120 people watched film clips showing three types of disgust, described as socio-moral, body product and death, and gore.

The experiment was devised by Bridget Rubenking of University of Central Florida, and Annie Lang of Indiana University.

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