they [psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynsk] assembled 22 Tucson municipal court judges. They told the judges they wanted to test the relationship between personality traits and bail decisions, but, for one group, they inserted in the middle of the personality questionnaire two exercises meant to evoke awareness of their mortality. One asked the judges to “briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you”; the other required them to “jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you physically as you die and once you are physically dead.” They then asked the judges to set bail in the hypothetical case of a prostitute whom the prosecutor claimed was a flight risk. The judges who did the mortality exercises set an average bail of $455. The control group that did not do the exercises set it at an average of $50. The psychologists knew they were onto something.
The rest is a very interesting read. There’s a book I started reading, “False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear” by Marc Siegel, MD, that talks about how fear overrides many of our rational judgments. I think I’ll have to go back and read the entire thing now.