Frozen in Time

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Science  16 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5755, pp. 1743
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5755.1743c

Humans may be unique in being aware of their own mortality. In any case, being reminded that we are, in fact, mortal is apt to evoke feelings of anxiety and to call forth mechanisms for alleviating or managing our reactions to lives being extinguished. One such strategy is to seek reinforcement of one's worldview, which has the consequence of skewing our opinions of others (and others' actions) toward the extremes of good (in accord with one's views) and bad. Furthermore, these valuations may very well become fixed at their best or worst if the other person has died.

Eylon and Allison provide evidence for the immutability of judgments in the form of two experiments in which subjects were assessed for the change in their valuations when a good person (fictitious in the first case, real in the second) was described as having behaved immorally and, conversely, when a bad person was reported as having acted meritoriously. They found that the decrement in positive ratings and the increase in negative ratings were both smaller when the persons in question were dead versus still alive, suggesting that our impressions of people, favorable or not, become resistant to change when they die. — GJC

Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 12, 1708 (2005).

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