New research published in the Journal of Research in Personality has revealed that existential isolation is linked to increased death thoughts. Those who feel alone in their experience and separate from other human beings go through a higher level of levels of death-related cognitions.
Peter Helm, the study author and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Missouri said, “I have been continually interested in how individuals respond to existential concerns, that is, concerns of inevitable death, meaninglessness, freedom (and consequences) of choice, and inherent isolation.”
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Adding, “Existential isolation, in particular, fascinates me because I believe there are numerous instances in our daily lives that can remind us of our inherent separation and yet there is almost no discussion of how this experience can have real repercussions. My broad program of research is aimed at uncovering the nature and consequences of feeling existentially isolated from others, and more broadly, how can we bridge the existential divide.”
In the two surveys, it was found out that there is a link between feeling existentially isolated and greater death thought accessibility. Participants were asked questions like how much they agreed or disagreed to statements like, “Other people usually do not understand my experiences.” Through answers to questions like these their existential isolation was assessed.
Death thought accessibility was assessed by asking participants to fill missing letters in different words. For instance, co__se could be completed as both course and corpse.
Helm said, “This study is couched in the assumption that people have what researchers and clinicians might call ‘anxiety buffers.’ Anxiety buffers (such as self-esteem and faith in a cultural worldview) function to keep existential dread in check (i.e., the distressing feelings associated with pondering one’s inevitable death, the meaninglessness of life, etc. These buffers are ultimately constructed and sustained via social validation – that the strength and perceived validity of our buffers depends, in part, on how much others in our social worlds agree that our worldviews are meaningful and justified.”
Helm explained, “Thus, one major takeaway is that experiences of existential isolation — having the feeling that other people in your social world do not, or cannot, understand your subjective experience — can actually weaken these buffers. Put differently, the experience of not feeling validated in your experience (i.e., feeling existentially isolated), appears to weaken our defensive buffers.”