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Belief in a just world extends life expectancy

The way you perceive the world predicts partly how old you may live. Psychologists at Trinity Western University in Canada published the results of a study in the Journal of Aging Research, which show that people in their seventies who 'believe in a just world' are much less likely to die than people of the same age who do not believe the world is an honest and just place.

The researchers asked 440 men and women aged 65-87 whether they thought they had got what they deserved in this world. In addition the psychologists determined the subjects' Future Time Perspective and Future Self-Continuity.

The Future Time Perspective means that the researchers asked the subjects if they thought they still had a long life ahead. Future Self-Continuity is a little more complex. The researchers wanted to know whether the subjects conceived of their future self as worthwhile and whether they recognised their present selves in their future selves.

Believing that you'll still be around in, say, ten years' time, and believing that you'll still be completely healthy then and just as pleasant as you are now is one facet of believing in a just world, according to the researchers.

Finally the researchers also measured the extent to which the subjects distrusted others. This is the opposite of belief in a just world.

The researchers then revisited their subjects after six and a half years had elapsed. They discovered that, of the 33.3 percent of the subjects that had the strongest belief in a just world, 79.6 percent were still alive. Of the 33.3 percent of the subjects with the weakest belief in a just world, 70.7 percent were still alive. That meant that among the subjects with strong belief in a just world the chance of dying was 43.3 percent lower than among the subjects who had little belief in a just world.

Belief in a just world extends life expectancy

Similar analyses showed that a strong Future Time Perspective and a strong degree of Future Self-Continuity reduced the likelihood of dying by 36 and 26.6 percent respectively.

Distrust of others was related to a higher chance of dying. The likelihood of dying of the subjects who mistrusted those around them was 27.6 percent lower than that of subjects who had a more positive attitude towards the people around them.

Belief in a just world extends life expectancy

A positive attitude towards the world and your fellow humans is likely to help you live longer, the researchers conclude. "Interventions aimed at strengthening individuals' beliefs in a just world at an earlier age, and encouraging future-self continuity in the earlier adulthood years, might motivate people to care more for their potential person in the later years, and conceivably keep people healthier longer and thereby reduce risk of mortality", they write.

J Aging Res. 2011;2011:367902.

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