Donating possessions before death treated by some as a way to attain immortality: UBC study
VANCOUVER -- Perhaps unsurprisingly, research suggests people are more likely to pass on their possessions when facing death, but a study out of B.C. suggests one of the reasons may be attaining a type of immortality.
Research conducted by the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business suggests some see what they're calling "transcendence" as a motivator to make donations before they die.
"It sounds dramatic, but it's the idea that you can live on longer, symbolically through something else," professor Katherine White said in a news release.
White co-authored the study – which suggested people are 30 per cent more likely to donate when facing their own mortality – with UBC professor Darrren Dah and the University of Washington's Lea Dunn.
"If a product or a possession is somehow linked to your identity and you pass that on to others, it could potentially have this ability to transcend the self," White said.
The experiment involved asking participants to come to a lab with a book in hand that they might consider giving away. About 500 participants were divided into two groups, and one group was given a task meant to make them think about their own deaths, UBC said.
The other was told just to think about an average day.
They were later asked whether they'd donate the book they brought to a charity, and some were also asked if they wanted to write an inscription inside.
Researchers were not present when participants made the decision, in an effort to prevent any pressure to donate.
White says those in the group thinking about their deaths were more than 30 per cent more likely to give away the book, but only when they were not under the impression that it would be broken or recycled.
Dahl explained the effect using the example of a car. If the car is scrapped for parts, "the specialness of it, and the fact that it represents you, is broken up, and you're not a whole entity sticking around."
Though the study was initiated years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dahl says the novel coronavirus has made the public even more aware of how fragile life is.
The researchers say that as a result, more people are thinking about what they call "symbolic immortality" and what happens to their things when they die.