Washington, May 25 (IANS) Contemplating mortality can be terrifying. But not everyone responds to the thought of it in the same way. European Americans get worried and try to protect their sense of self, while Asian Americans are more likely to reach out to others, according to a new study.
Much of the research on what psychologists call "mortality salience" - thinking about death - has been done on people of European descent, and has found that it makes people act in dramatic ways, reports the journal Psychological Science.
"Men become more wary of sexy women and they like wholesome women more. People like to stereotype more. You see all these strange and bizarre occurrences when people think about the fact that they aren't going to live forever," says study co-author Christine Kellams.
Kellams of the University of California Santa Barbara carried out the research with Jim Blascovich, according to a California statement.
Particularly, people try to protect their sense of self, by putting down people who aren't like them or distancing themselves from innocent victims.
But, as a cultural psychologist, Kellams wondered if this reaction might be different in other cultures. In particular, she wanted to look at people of Asian backgrounds, whose sense of self is generally more linked to people around them.
Kellams recruited both European Americans and Asian Americans for the study. Each person was told to either write down thoughts that come to mind when thinking about their own death - or to write down their thoughts about dental pain (those people were in the control group).
Then they were asked to decide what bail should be set for a prostitute and given a survey on their attitudes toward prostitution.
As other research has found, European American people who had thought about death were much harsher towards the prostitute than those in the control group.
But Asian Americans who thought about death were much kinder toward the prostitute -
even though they started out more conservative.
In a second experiment, participants were presented with a less extreme case, a story about a university employee who'd been injured in an accident through no fault of his own.
The same result was found; European Americans were more likely to blame him if they'd contemplated their own mortality, while Asian Americans were less likely to blame him.