Dr. Sarah Hirschmüller and Dr. Boris Egloff in a new paper in Frontiers in Psychology examined 407 final statements of death row inmates in Texas and compared them to a big database of the content of the written and spoken communication of more than 23,000 individuals, as well as samples taken from undergraduates instructed to contemplate their death, and from actual suicide notes (some written before “successful” suicide attempts, others before unsuccessful ones).
There were limitations to the study. While the executions are largely repeatable in process, external factors such as the presence of friends and family of the condemned or his / her victim are not so controlled. The comparison statements are also probably not as closely controlled or taken from such a specific group as someone who is about to imminently killed.
However, the research did find that:
…the final statements of Texas death row inmates conveyed extremely positive expressions that reflected the emotional processes of coping with mortality.
The inmates’ last words contained a significantly higher proportion of positive words than the control statements. And that makes sense. Apparently it’s called Terror Management Theory.
It got me thinking. If you knew were doing something for the very last time, would you do it better? I think we can get sucked in to normality and take things for granted, maybe not trying as hard. This isn’t meant to be a post about regret, but the finiteness (apparently that is a real word!) of things has been a recurring theme for me recently.
If you knew you were going to lose your job, would you work harder? If you knew you were going to lose the game, would you run harder? If you knew you were going to lose your friend, would you hug tighter and laugh longer? If you knew you were going to lose your partner, would you kiss more passionately and say “I love you” more sincerely?
What stops us doing that before it’s too late? Do we take things easy or are we pushing the limits just for no-one else to notice?
He’s got infinite possibilities
I can feel them now
If he chooses well, then nothing can tear him down
Infinite Possibilities by Amel Larrieux