Study into who is least afraid of death

March 24, 2017, University of Oxford
Skulls and bones in Paris Catacombs. Credit: Shutterstock images

A new study examines all robust, available data on how fearful we are of what happens once we shuffle off this mortal coil. They find that atheists are among those least afraid of dying... and, perhaps not surprisingly, the very religious.

Religion has long been thought to be a solution to the problem of death. Notions of an afterlife are nearly universal, though there is great diversity in the details. Given this close association between and death, researchers have long supposed that religion lessens fear about death. It stands to reason that religious believers should be less fearful of death than nonreligious individuals, or does it? A systematic review of high quality international studies led by researchers at the University of Oxford paints a more complicated picture. It shows that the very religious and atheists are the groups who do not fear death as much as much as those in-between in a paper published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behavior.

'Meta-analyses are statistical procedures used to extract and combine the findings of multiple studies. This produces a better estimate of the consensus in a field than looking at individual studies,' explains Dr Jonathan Jong, a Research Associate at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology and Research Fellow at Coventry University. Jong led a team of researchers from Oxford, Coventry, Royal Holloway, Gordon College, Melbourne University and Otago University to search systematically for research on the relationship between and religious belief.

The team found 100 relevant articles, published between 1961 and 2014, containing information about 26,000 worldwide. Combining this data, they found that of religiosity were weakly linked with lower levels of death anxiety. The effects were similar whether they looked at religious beliefs such as belief in God, and an afterlife, or religious behaviour like going to church, and praying.

Some studies also distinguished between intrinsic religiosity and extrinsic religiosity. Extrinsic religiosity is when religious behaviour is motivated by pragmatic considerations such as the social or emotional benefits of following a religion, whereas intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by 'true belief'. The meta-analysis showed that while people who were intrinsically religious enjoyed lower levels of death anxiety, those who were extrinsically religious revealed higher levels of death anxiety.

The findings were mixed across the studies, with only 30% of the effects showing this finding. Surprisingly, perhaps, 18% of the studies found that were more afraid of death than non-religious people; and over half the research showed no link at all between the fear of death and religiosity. This mixed picture shows that the relationship between religiosity and death anxiety may not be fixed, but may differ from context to context. Most of the studies were conducted in the United States, with a small number carried out in the Middle East and East Asia. This makes it difficult to estimate how the pattern varies from culture to culture, or religion to religion, says the paper.

Based on previous research, the team also checked for curvilinear patterns in the data. Rather than assuming that the is either positively or negatively related to death anxiety, some researchers have posited that the relationship is like an upside-down U shape, with religious believers and disbelievers showing less death than people in between. Out of the 100 studies, the team only found 11 studies that were robust enough to test this idea; however, of these, almost all (10) formed this pattern.

Dr Jong commented: 'It may be that other researchers would have found this inverse-U pattern too if they had looked for it. This definitely complicates the old view, that religious people are less afraid of death than nonreligious people. It may well be that atheism also provides comfort from death, or that people who are just not afraid of aren't compelled to seek religion.'

Explore further: Researchers find neurological link between religious experiences and epilepsy

More information: Jonathan Jong et al. The religious correlates of death anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Religion, Brain & Behavior (2017). DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2016.1238844

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FredJose
5 / 5 (7) Mar 24, 2017
I wonder if it's not also a case of people really being afraid of the process leading up to death perhaps more than death itself. Here I'm thinking of whether it's a slow and painful path or a quick, totally unexpected one.
Either way there probably comes a moment of recognition that death is imminent and the unknown experience of not knowing anymore looms large - creating anxiety for one last time.
Just my totally meaningless twopence.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (7) Mar 25, 2017
Actually, Fred, it was rather insightful...
But - unexpected ones are prob'ly less stressful overall....:-)
(Since your adrenal system doesn't have time to ramp up or your brain enough time to process it.)
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2017
The press release is a pretty biased way of summarizing the findings. What about just stating that non-religiousness is the safest cure for freeing oneself from religions' fearmongering in relation to the death-life? Without an intention of hurting believers that deserve our respect and help, I am concluding that it would be great to organize the more the better studies for exposing the irrationality and danger for mental health that religions truly are.
HeyTony
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2017
Typo in last line of first paragraph, "as much" repeats twice.

"It shows that the very religious and atheists are the groups who do not fear death as much as much as those in-between in a paper published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behavior."

koitsu
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2017
Well, there are many (not necessarily all, of course) who are religious because they fear a reality without understandable organization, a god, etc. And for many who were religious but walked away from religion, that act takes significant fearlessness. Maybe events like that or the characteristics that lead to those events set the stage for less fear of death? It's interesting and really should be studied further.
koitsu
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2017
Also, I hate to be macabre, but if the interviewee isn't likely to die during the interview, how honest can that person truly be about their fear of death?
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (10) Mar 25, 2017
This "study" is severely flawed, among other things in assuming the same mechanism is working to keep the atheistic and the "overly religious", whatever that means, from fearing, or having a distaste for, death. To fear death is normal and reasonable. The "overly religious" can be said to have gotten themselves into a state where they have convinced themselves that saying enough "Our Fathers" will protect them. Atheists do not have that. With their emphasis on proof as the basis for all, they can certainly be said to be exposed to the effects of uncertainty. For them to have no fear of death, or even lower fear than anyone else, frankly speaks for their having a twisted and deviate mentality. But, then, to look at their comments, dripping with eager and unabashed illegitimate bile and hatred of God and religion is to display eminently, at best, an arrested development nature.
Macrocompassion
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2017
Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear
Seeing that death a necessary will come when it will come.
W.Shakespere
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (10) Mar 25, 2017
Atheists... With their emphasis on proof as the basis for all, they can certainly be said to be exposed to the effects of uncertainty. For them to have no fear of death, or even lower fear than anyone else, frankly speaks for their having a twisted and deviate mentality
-Note the vile bigotry of the hardcore religionist. Nobody is good emough for them except those who are as twisted as they. And they remind the less committed about this fact every day.

What is deviant is the religion that teaches people from birth that if they screw up in life then death is the least of their worries. They terrorize kids with visions of torture by red monsters with horns and hooves. All their lives most believers strive to be good but since they cant follow all the insane edicts in their book they live with the fear and guilt of eternal retribution.

Of course only the extremely committed, and those entirely free of the torment and persecution, can hope to live without fear.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 25, 2017
"Accustom yourself to the belief that death is of no concern to us, since all good and evil lie in sensation and sensation ends with death." Epicurus
julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 25, 2017
Christianity endorses fair dealings and just treatment, not giving in to grudges or hate, not cheating others, not lying to them or stealing from them, not taking life, not to give in to fear. Are those ludicrous rules? And, despite what TheGhostofOtto1923 insists, not having disdain for death, welcoming it, is a severe mental disease.
And despite what Macrocompassion says, death is not necessary. The craven and conniving in power would be catatonic if they felt death was inevitable. They know how to avoid it. If you are doing what promotes God's interests, He will not remove you. The powerful beleaguering the people seem to provide obstacles to surmount that many would not engage out of slothfulness, and the beleaguering can be penance for many for many of their sins.
rrwillsj
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 25, 2017
in my life experience, what separates the materialist atheist from the believers in the supernatural, is an internal self-discipline. Rejecting the mindless rote conditioning during childhood, to accept religious dogma as an absolute truth.
malapropism
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2017
Christianity endorses fair dealings and just treatment

I believe that you call yourself a Christian and you espouse the ideas of this religion publicly, yet you also hold contempt for those with alternative ideas, offering proof of your own bigotry by writing such opinions as:
... frankly speaks for [atheists] having a twisted and deviate mentality.

It would seem to me that you are very far from holding Christian ideals.
tblakely1357
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2017
Any 'study' that 'proves' one group as being superior to another is inherently flawed. Basically it's an attempt to 'scientifically' rationalize bigotry.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2017
Christianity endorses fair dealings and just treatment, not giving in to grudges or hate, not cheating others, not lying to them or stealing from them, not taking life, not to give in to fear
"49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." luke12

"He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." — Luke 22:36, NIV
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2017
Matthew 10:34, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send [or bring] peace, but a sword."

-The most violent aspects in the religion are found in the NT;

"37 "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." Matt10

-The call to martyr oneself and family, to present them to the enemy for killing like jesus did in jerusalem, is the most vile form of violence to be found in a book which is about nothing else BUT violence. OT = conquest, NT = revolution ie conquest from within. And revolution begins in the home.

Forums such as physorg present a unique opportunity to witness the true nature of religionists.
julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2017
So often, those attacking truth will go through the motions of saying literally anything, no matter how imbecilic.
So Christianity does not endorse fair dealings, not stealing, not maintaining grudges, loving your neighbor as yourself? God haters deny these things as they do here and what high qualities are to be found in those who gratuitously lie for craven purpose? When Christ spoke of "bringing a sword", He was talking poetically. His movement would not cater to the old ways and try to insinuate within them, but would hew a distinctly new path. And He didn't say not to love for family, but not to love them before God. Family members, remember, may try to lead you to holding grudges and you should not let them. And it is a sign of severe mental disease not to have distaste for death. It is even a clinical sign of mental problems.
zz5555
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2017
So Christianity does not endorse fair dealings, not stealing, not maintaining grudges, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I don't think that people think that Christianity doesn't endorse these things - the bible is vague enough that you can claim it supports just about anything. I think what people are saying is that people that call themselves "Christians" by and large do not support these things, as your comments seem to indicate.
Caliban
5 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2017
So often, those attacking truth will go through the motions of saying literally anything, no matter how imbecilic.
So Christianity does not endorse fair dealings, not stealing, not maintaining grudges, loving your neighbor as yourself? God haters deny these things as they do here and what high qualities are to be found in those who gratuitously lie for craven purpose? When Christ spoke of "bringing a sword", He was talking poetically. [..], remember, may try to lead you to holding grudges and you should not let them. And it is a sign of severe mental disease not to have distaste for death. It is even a clinical sign of mental problems.


Or, you could incorporate personal responsibility into your lifeways, and so vitiate the need for a god, instead of maundering on in apology for an AK, AS,O G, who SHOULD be capable of defending himself, yes?

Or, continue lazy, weak, venal with God as an existential prophylactic.

zz5555
5 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2017
I'm surprised to say this, but I agree with FredJose. I'm an atheist now - and have been for many years - but I was raised a Christian and went to church every Sunday. And while I can objectively say that the god of Christianity doesn't exist, I still find myself talking to god without thinking about it. I'll probably be that way for the rest of my life.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2017
So often, those attacking truth will go through the motions of saying literally anything, no matter how imbecilic.
So Christianity does not endorse fair dealings, not stealing, not maintaining grudges, loving your neighbor as yourself?
-Depends. Ask the victims in the rwandan genocide.

"The Catholic church in Rwanda apologised on Sunday for the church's role in the 1994 genocide, saying it regretted the actions of those who participated in the massacres.

"We apologize for all the wrongs the church committed.

"The statement acknowledged that church members planned, aided and carried out the genocide, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists."

-Ask the all the victims in northern ireland. Ask the victims of the serbian xian militias, the massacre at sabra and shatila in lebanon, the lords resustance army, the tiapei rebellion.

Ask the ww2 german soldiers with gott mit uns on their belt buckles.

Etc.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2017
Its not what religions SAY that matters its what they DO. They all say the same things, that their gods are the only source of love and peace and goodness and truth.

And when we inevitably begin to suffer from the effects of all the begatting they demand, they turn to the sections of the book like those above. You know, the ones they love to ignore?

They preach the phrase they all love the most, 'Fill up the earth with more of us and fewer of them,' and they commence to cleansing the holy land once again.

In the meantime we only have to deal with the fact that, like the godder above just told you, we are not welcome in their neighborhoods or their schools, nor will they spend money in our businesses or donate to our charities.

Etc.

God demands bigotry as an essential aspect of service. Its in all the books dont you know.

As far as fear of death goes, without that, who would need them? Thats why death is central to their stories. Death cults.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2017
When Christ spoke of "bringing a sword", He was talking poetically
Indeed. And when he promised to save your souls was he talking poetically? Are the 10 commandments poetry?

Xians get to pick and choose what is poetry and when its poetry. And its amazing how often poetry turns literal when for instance you need to slaughter 800k rwandans.

After all thats what its for.

Onward xian soldiers.
tblakely1357
1 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2017
It is ironic that atheists really hate Christianity blaming it for much of the evil in the world but rarely take any other religion to task.

But then most atheists ignore that their ilk caused more suffering and death in an historical eye-blink in the 20th century. They also ignore that most 'religious' atrocities were done for secular reasons. In other word some bad guys wanted to steal someone else's property and/or engage in some good old fashion slaughter and used religion to justify such actions. As we saw in the 20th century, when religion was an unfashionable choice they came up with other justifications.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2017
It is ironic that atheists really hate Christianity blaming it for much of the evil in the world but rarely take any other religion to task
-And did you note that I for one consider all religions the same?
They also ignore that most 'religious' atrocities were done for secular reasons. In other word some bad guys wanted to steal someone else's property and/or engage in some good old fashion slaughter and used religion to justify such actions
-I see. So no actual believer would want to steal property even though joshua gave them the example? The OT was all about stealing property and incidently killing women, children, cattle, orchards, etc.

But no self-respecting xian would actually do that sort of thing, even if their 18 children were starving, would they?

Even if their god said the world was theirs for the taking?

Naw, that would just be wrong. Manifest destiny is only for other places and other times, like Rwanda and eastern india.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2017
Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear
Seeing that death a necessary will come when it will come.
W.Shakespere

I like Einsteins even better;
"The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there's no risk of accident for
someone who's dead."
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (4) Mar 26, 2017
Even if their god said the world was theirs for the taking?

Naw, that would just be wrong. Manifest destiny is only for other places and other times, like Rwanda and eastern india.

Ya, like North America at the beginning of the 15th century...:-)
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (4) Mar 26, 2017
It is ironic that atheists really hate Christianity blaming it for much of the evil in the world but rarely take any other religion to task.

It's called cleaning up the inside of your house, before you go out and work the outside.
But then most atheists ignore that their ilk caused more suffering and death in an historical eye-blink in the 20th century.

No, it was done by "God fearing" peoples.
They also ignore that most 'religious' atrocities were done for secular reasons. In other word some bad guys wanted to steal someone else's property and/or engage in some good old fashion slaughter and used religion to justify such actions.

We're better cynics than you give us credit for.
As we saw in the 20th century, when religion was an unfashionable choice they came up with other justifications.

Example?
tblakely1357
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2017
"No, it was done by "God fearing" peoples."

Good lord, get your money back from whomever educated you. The bulk of the horrors of the 20th century were committed by hardcore atheists in the Communist party. While Hitler doesn't fit your classic definition of an atheist, he despised Christianity as a religion for the weak. He wanted to return Germans to their pagan roots, a religion he thought much more appropriate for Aryans.

It's obvious you're a hater but at least try and get the facts straight.
Gucek001
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2017
"It may well be that atheism also provides comfort from death, or that people who are just not afraid of death aren't compelled to seek religion"

this part actually assumes that atheists never found religion or ignored it for one reason or another. I would rather assume (especially in more religious countries + basing it on me and majority of my friends) ..that some people grow up to stop believing random stuff just to comfort themselves. many of us were raised as e.g. christians, but the we started thinking. I fully understand the need for comfort - especially when you cannot influence the outcome of events, but making stuff up is not the solution.

we *chose* to not live in the matrix - even tho the vision of that steak may be really appealing.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2017
Good lord, get your money back from whomever educated you. The bulk of the horrors of the 20th century were committed by hardcore atheists in the Communist party
-And if you knew anything about communism you would realize that it is a pseudoreligion complete with a chosen people, messiah, promised land, and a divine mandate. Marx and the others referred to the soul and spirit in their works.

And all such religions denigrate druglike competing religions. Including yours.they all use the same structure and push the same buttons.

Only the worker is good enough to run the company.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2017
he despised Christianity as a religion for the weak
-And you despise all other religionists as being weak and gullible
wanted to return Germans to their pagan roots
-Hitler was a catholic and had the support of the pope throughout his tenure.

Nazism was also constructed as a pseudoreligion. Hitler was a messiah sent by god to deliver the german people to the promised land, lebensraum. The ss swore an oath in the name of god to serve their messiah, just like you do.

And like i say, many bullets hit belt buckles with 'gott mit uns' emblazoned on them. Most soldaten were practicing xians who fought with the certainty that the xian god was on their side.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2017
There were perhaps 1000 chaplains in german forces throughout ww2.
http://www.histor...s046.htm

The article is of course heavily apologetic (they served but they didnt like it) but the basic facts are there. Even foreign ss divisions had them.
http://www.libera...hip.html

So we discover that your religion has lied to you yes?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2017
They find that atheists are among those least afraid of dying... and, perhaps not surprisingly, the very religious
this may well be more about making up your mind about what will happen then anything else - the human brain likes answers

it doesn't matter if the answers are correct (see: religion, conspiracist ideation, pseudoscience, etc)
it only matters that it has an answer

.

.

Christianity endorses fair dealings and just treatment, not giving in to grudges or hate, not cheating others, not lying to them or stealing from them, not taking life, not to give in to fear. Are those ludicrous rules?
@juli
it also endorses selling and killing daughters for any myriad reasons, slavery, bigotry, misogynistic behaviour and genocide for those who simply have other beliefs... Are those ludicrous rules?

or didn't you read your own holy comic?

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