In People's Minds, Being a Zombie Is Better than Being a Vegetable

Dead is dead. Except when you're actually dead, apparently, because a recent study published in Cognition shows that people think a dead person is somehow better at thinking than a human vegetable. Score one for the zombie apocalypse.

The study was conducted by scientists working out of the University of Maryland and Harvard. Researchers approached 201 random respondents in New York and New England, and presented them with three stories about a man named David. In all three, Dave was involved in a terrible car accident. Where they differed was in one, Dave recovers, in the second, he dies, and in the third, he survives but in a persistent vegetative state. Sad stuff.

They were then asked to rate their expectations for Dave's mental acumen on a 7-point scale between 3 and -3. Non-dead Dave did fair, rating 1.77. About a C+, but still. It's the other responses that get bizarre:

The results, reported in Cognition, were that... the dead David [rated a] -0.29. That score for the dead David was surprising enough, suggesting as it did a considerable amount of mental acuity in the dead. What was extraordinary, though, was the result for the vegetative David: -1.73. In the view of the average New Yorker or New Englander, the vegetative David was more dead than the version who was dead.

Huh? What's more, they accounted for religious-types who might think the soul/after life/what have you. Even the non-religious believed the dead were closer to being alive than the biologically living. It didn't matter if Dave was buried or not. His corpse was making out ok in the thought department.

What's not clear is... well, what it all means. Do we truly value dead people more than PVS patients? Especially when you consider how much debate has come out of the topic. Remember Terri Schiavo? Is death just so mystifying that we afford it a higher cognitive perch than a person hooked up to feeding tubes? Does is stem from a latent belief in the afterlife, or from wanting to come back if you die? Should we be pumping more money into raising the dead? Isn't that just asking for trouble? [Economist via Motherboard]

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