Our brain protects us from the idea of our own death and, according to a new study, makes us unable to grasp our own mortality.
At one level, everyone knows that he is going to die, said senior author of the study Yair Dor-Ziderman, who was a doctoral student at Bar Ilan University in Israel at the time of graduation. But Dor-Ziderman and his team hypothesized that there is something in our brain that can not understand "the idea of the end, the nothing, the total annihilation" when it comes to our own death.
Related: 10 Things We Learned About the Brain in 2018
Her research was an attempt to reconcile brain learning with the universality of death. The brain is a kind of "prediction engine," Dor-Ziderman, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, told Live Science. The brain uses old information to predict what might happen in similar scenarios in the future, which is an important tool for survival, Dor-Ziderman said.
It is also true that everyone who ever lives will die, so it makes sense that your brain should be able to predict that you too will one day die.
But that does not seem to work way. To find out why, researchers in the new study recruited 24 people and saw how their brain's predictive mechanisms worked in their own death.
Dor-Ziderman and his team considered a special signal in the brain that was "surprise." This signal indicates that the brain is learning learning patterns and making predictions based on them. For example, if you show three pictures of oranges to a person, but they then show a picture of an apple, the brain gives the person a "surprise" signal, because the brain has already learned the pattern and predicted that it would see an orange ,
In this study, the team showed the volunteers pictures of faces ̵
After the participants learned to associate a particular face with words of death, they were shown a different face. As the researchers predicted, when they were shown this "deviant" image, participants' brains showed a telltale surprise signal that they had learned to associate the concept of death with the face of a particular stranger surprised when a new one emerged.  But in a second test, the participants were shown a picture of themselves next to a death word. When they were shown the deviant image of another face, their brain activity showed no surprise signal. In other words, the predictive mechanism of the brain collapsed when a person linked death to itself, the researchers said.
Death is omnipresent, but when it comes to our own death, we do not update our prediction Record this reality, said Dor-Ziderman. It is unclear to which evolutionary purpose this breakdown serves.
But at some point in time, people made a big leap forward as they evolved from monkeys. They developed a theory of mind and became very aware at the time that they would die, Dor-Ziderman said.
According to theorists, awareness of death would reduce the likelihood of reproduction, as people were so afraid of death that they would not risk finding a partner, he said. "In order for us to develop this unique ability [to have a theory of mind] we also had to … develop this ability to deny reality, especially death."
While most people may be afraid of dying, some highly qualified meditators have allegedly eliminated the fear of dying. Dor-Ziderman and his team now bring these mediators to the lab. "We want to see if this is true," he said.
The results of the new study will be published next month in the journal NeuroImage .
Originally published on Live Science .