Your Brain Is Awesome at Avoiding One Big Thing

Recognition that you're going to die
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2019 12:44 PM CDT
Updated Oct 26, 2019 11:05 AM CDT
You're Going to Die. Good Luck Telling Your Brain

Researchers say they've discovered a nifty little trick of the brain—it tries really hard to present the illusion that death is something that happens to that other guy, not you. It seems to be a defense mechanism of sorts, say researchers at Israel's Bar Ilan University, per the Guardian. Essentially, we'd never get anything done if we were consumed by thoughts of our certain demise. To figure this out, researchers showed test subjects a series of photos, some accompanied by words such as "death" or "burial," while monitoring brain activity. When the subjects saw their own images accompanied by words linked to death, the part of the brain associated with making predictions shut down. It remained active when the words accompanied photos of others.

“The brain does not accept that death is related to us,” says researcher Yair Dor-Ziderman. “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.” This appears to kick in during childhood, about the time kids gain an understanding of death, reports the Times of Israel. The study in NeuroImage lays out for the first time "a plausible neural-based mechanism of death-denial," write the researchers. Of course, everyone understands they're going to die on some level, but this seems to be the brain's way of protecting us from that gloomy prospect, writes Mark Serrels at CNET, who adds, "Thanks brain." (Yale researchers breathed some life into dead animal brains.)

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