People are 30 percent more likely to donate their assets when faced with their own mortality, say researchers. The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, examined how people respond to "mortality salience" -- that is, the uniquely human awareness that they're going to die.
The findings showed that people can also express a desire to pass important possessions on to others because it gives them a kind of immortality, which the researchers call 'transcendence.' "For many people, that mortality salience is much higher now, for better or for worse. People are just more aware of how fragile life can be," said study researcher Darren Dahl from the University of British Columbia in Canada.
"As a result, more people are likely thinking about the idea of symbolic immortality and where their possessions will go when they pass on," said study co-author Katherine White. To conduct the experiment, 512 participants were asked to arrive at the lab with a book they might consider giving away. One group was then given a task that made them contemplate their deaths, while the other considered what their typical day was like.
Later, participants were asked if they wanted to donate their book to charity; some were also offered the chance to write an inscription in the book and sign it, making the offering more personal. No researchers were present when participants made their decision to ensure there was no pressure to donate.
Connection To Identity
"The people who had contemplated their death were more than 30 percent more likely to give away the product -- particularly when they had connected it to themselves," White said. "They're much more likely to donate it after they have somehow connected it to their identity," White added.
The findings revealed that the effect also didn't work on people who had already satisfied that desire for transcendence through other channels. The researchers noted that this study could be helpful to charitable organizations looking for people to donate a portion of their estates.