More dead than dead: perceptions of persons in the persistent vegetative state

Cognition. 2011 Nov;121(2):275-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.06.014. Epub 2011 Jul 27.


Patients in persistent vegetative state (PVS) may be biologically alive, but these experiments indicate that people see PVS as a state curiously more dead than dead. Experiment 1 found that PVS patients were perceived to have less mental capacity than the dead. Experiment 2 explained this effect as an outgrowth of afterlife beliefs, and the tendency to focus on the bodies of PVS patients at the expense of their minds. Experiment 3 found that PVS is also perceived as "worse" than death: people deem early death better than being in PVS. These studies suggest that people perceive the minds of PVS patients as less valuable than those of the dead - ironically, this effect is especially robust for those high in religiosity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes
  • Perception / physiology
  • Persistent Vegetative State / physiopathology
  • Persistent Vegetative State / psychology*
  • Religion
  • Young Adult