Brain denies death when faced with existential threats

Published 30.10.2019 00:32
Updated 20.12.2019 01:18
Illustration of an active brain. FILE PHOTO
Illustration of an active brain. (FILE PHOTO)

We all know we are going to die one day. In the end, it is the cycle of life, right? Well, new research shows that our brain shields itself from the existential threat of death.

According to an article published on Live Science, Yair Dor-Ziderman, lead author of the study, said, “When it comes to our own deaths, there's something in our brains that simply can't understand 'the idea of ending, of nothing, of complete annihilation.'”

The research aimed to use the brain’s predictive signal to determine its reaction when facing death. Our brain has a “surprise” signal which enables it to learn patterns and make predictions. For instance, if the subjects are repeatedly shown photos of oranges and an apple shows up in the mix, our brain produces a surprise signal because it predicted from the pattern that the next photo to be an orange.

Using the same method, the research team showed volunteers pictures of faces – either the volunteer's own or that of a stranger – paired with either negative words or words related to death, such as "grave." The researchers simultaneously measured viewers' brain activity using magnetoencephalography, which measures magnetic fields created by the electrical activity of brain cells.

After establishing a pattern, the participants were then abruptly shown an image of themselves next to a word directly associated with death. In this instance, their brain activity showed no sign of a surprise signal. In other words, the brain's prediction mechanism broke down when the person had to associate death with themselves, the researchers said.

The details of the study are expected to be published in the journal NeuroImage in the near future.

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