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

Illustration for article titled 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.

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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]

Image Credit: Chris Harvey/Shutterstock

DISCUSSION

theGreenCabbage
theGreenCabbage

I think my biggest fear in life (aside from heights, acupuncture, and noisy environments) is to be in a vegetable state, to be full awake and capable in the mind, but you're trapped in a body that cannot move.

When I do not have enough sleep and I go take a nap during the afternoon, I easily go into sleep paralysis. It's a state where your eyes are fully open and your mind is fully awake, but your mind and body are in disconnection where your body is ordered to be go paralyzed by the brain because it thinks you are still sleeping (so you don't hurt yourself while you're dreaming, say). Being fully awake and aware of your surroundings, but not being able to exert control over your body despite your best attempts, and that panic of desperately trying to move but cannot, is the scariest feeling. You can put me on top of the antennae of the Burj Dubai suspended in mid air, stick a couple needles on my left arm, or push me into a Skrillex concert, and I will consider any of those three options over being in a vegetable state. My face goes pale and my palms sweat just thinking of it.

I don't understand how those who've been vegetables the greater portions of their life because of a life altering accident think or feel, but if it were me, the award of Big Bronze Balls goes to them no doubt. I feel like a little bitch thinking about it.