ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2012) — New University of Otago research suggests that when non-religious people think about their own death they become more consciously skeptical about religion, but unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief.

The Department of Psychology research also found that when religious people think about death, their religious beliefs appear to strengthen at both conscious and unconscious levels. The researchers believe the findings help explain why religion is such a durable feature of human society.

In three studies, which involved 265 university students in total, religious and nonreligious participants were randomly assigned to "death priming" and control groups. 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.

Study co-author Associate Professor 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," Associate Professor Halberstadt says.

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Bonjour Dr Meaden, Vous avez une attitude saine à la vie.
Je vous conseille d'être prudent en traversant les routes à Oxford. Le trafic est horrible.


Is the significance of "unconscious mind" completely lost on everyone? Really?

Est la signification de "inconscient" ignorés par vous tous? Est-ce?

Yeah, I'm callin' bullshit on this study.  The parameters seemed highly suspect and illogical to me.  I mean, what's the definition of "non-religious" for this study?  Does that mean they don't believe in god or that they just don't go to church that often.  I'm not sure what idea they're trying to propose here.  When I dream, for that moment, I believe all kinds of crazy shit.  I can fly and hang out with Bugs Bunny.  I can hold my breath for hours and I sometimes live in a castle.  I don't see how this is a significant study in any way.  Maybe I'm missing something here...?

"Does that mean they don't believe in god"


"I'm not sure what idea they're trying to propose here."

Our species having evolved an innate (and unconscious) predisposition to "agency detection", …it's consistent with the idea. It's also touted as being the evolutionary explanation for religion, there are three competing hypotheses as to how.

"Maybe I'm missing something here…?"

"Unconscious mind" specifically, …not "dreaming".

Hi everyone.  I am new here but I am in agreement with Woody Allen who said, "I'm not afraid of death.  I just don't want to be there when it happens."  I have had a near death experience I can tell you it is a very natural and peaceful feeling.  But, I got there through an accident and a bad head injury...aha that explains it all....and with my brain swelling I would have gladly given up except I was young and the desire to live was strong.  I guess my point here is that I know that death is a peaceful and natural end but to get there you might have to suffer and that is what most elderly people I talk to fear.  That is what I fear.  I wish our society were mature enough to allow or assist people when near death to die.  I have heard good things about Hospice assisting in that process but have not heard how they help non-theists in that process.

Oh yes, there are several organizations that can help with assisted dying and the idea is not at all loathsome. My children are all grown now, they will be 49 within this year, and they know my intentions and how to sit with me in the process of either a natural death or an assisted one of it comes to that. 

A very dear friend had tongue cancer, a extremely painful and ugly form of the disease. When he was ready, he called together his family and closest fiends, they had a sweet time together, and then they were with him when he took the gas mask. They held his hand, gathered with him and he was not alone. That is another thing elderly fear ... being alone at death.

We of the larger community celebrated his life and his influence on our city. 

"The techniques used to study unconscious beliefs include 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."

I think the people who did the study overlooked the possibility that atheists were more likely to take a few seconds to consider this kind of question then to give a quick simple answer based on blind faith and memorized bible verses

Here's a different take. The research is correct that death priming makes one cling more tightly to strongly held beliefs:

In the religious that translates into," I'm even more certain about what I believe."

In the skeptic that translates into, "I'm even more accepting that I could be wrong."


Makes perfect sense to me. However, I can't be over confidant because the explanation I offered is conducive to my own bias.  However I wasn't primed with a death visualization...or was I?

Perhaps a more controlled study is required.

How interesting, 

"when non-religious people think about their own death they become more consciously skeptical about religion, but unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief."

That has not been my experience at all, and I suspect many others feel as I do. I could be wrong, I have been wrong many times in my life. But on this one, I have no feeling of receptivity to religious belief. Rather, I understand life's evolution, the progression of the individual through birth to death and thus my belief that I had better have fun now because we are not at a dress rehearsal. Knowing my flesh and bone and blood return to the stuff of stars is very comforting to me. I do not end, I just change into different energy forms, not in a human form or spirit.

As to soul, I know a lot of people find comfort in believing they have souls and will find loved ones in another realm and that just doesn't fit my understanding of what life is. The brain activity functions on electrical energy and probably a lot of other forces at play in the universe, but when the light goes out, the energy stops, the brain stops what brains do, the muscles, bones, and blood decay to dust or are burned into ash. It doesn't really matter. Don't look for me after death through some John Edwards type; I am not there. 

The important thing for me is to live an honest, faithful, loving, compassionate life, challenging where I see need, seeing and hearing and responding to the joys and pains of others and expressing my own as honestly as I can. For me, the purpose of life is to participate in this grand universe to my full capacity. Right now I am tired and spend a lot of time reading, writing or resting ... and that is just delicious!  I have the best of all possible worlds. My hard working days are gone leaving me with very fine memories. 

I have the added great joy of a loving family and they have grown into people I enjoy and respect. I am starting cooking today for a family meal tomorrow. I can't do a whole meal in one day; I just get too tired. But a two day preparation time for a family meal is so rich and full of pleasure, I feel joy, fulfillment, and very happy. This little ritual is what I am leaving behind to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; A happy little old lady with white hair and strong shoes who cooks great food. That is my legacy. 

To make it even better, my garden is springing to life with the Star Magnolia bursting into thousands of blossoms, the hellebores are in full bloom, spring bulbs pop up everywhere, and green shoots come up all over, even in unexpected places where the wild birds have dropped seeds. My little squirrel families grow  every year, and a delightful little mouse family has its little shelter in the back in the compost pile. I can hear them eating seeds from plants I trimmed last fall just loaded with seeds. They have a banquet of the finest quality. 

Life is sweet. 

What a beautiful description of the wonderful life experience Joan.  You express a view that is very similar to mine. 

I'm glad you experience wonder of life and enjoy it and participate in it. 

Remember when we couldn't discuss sex, or politics, or religion in polite society, and never, under any condition, discuss death and dying. All these barriers break down and become the fodder for interesting and enlightening discussions. 

To help deal with the death discussion, many groups spring to life and here are only three:

Death with Dignity,

Compassion & Choices,

Right to Die, 




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