Do you believe that the mind and body are two separate entities?
If you do, that makes you a “philosophical dualists.” And doctoral students Matthias Forstmann, Pascal Burgmer along with Dr. Thomas Mussweiler found evidence in five different studies that people who possess dualistic beliefs practiced health behaviors that were less than ideal.
Furthermore, they found that the relationship also worked in the other direction. People who were primed with unhealthy behaviors — such as pictures of unhealthy food — reported a stronger dualistic belief than participants who were primed with healthy behaviors.
Specifically, the researchers, from the University of Cologne, Germany, determined a dualistic belief was accompanied by irresponsible health and exercise behaviors including poor dietary intake.
Physicalist beliefs are the opposite of dualists in that people do not see a separation of mind and body with researchers discovering this perspective associated with a “healthier” perspective toward physical activity and diet.
Overall, the findings from the five studies provide converging evidence demonstrating that mind-body dualism has a noticeable impact on people’s health-related attitudes and behaviors. These findings suggest that dualistic beliefs decrease the likelihood of engaging in healthy behavior.
These findings support the researchers’ original hypothesis that the more people perceive their minds and bodies to be distinct entities, the less likely they will be to engage in behaviors that protect their bodies.
From a dualistic perspective, bodies are ultimately viewed as a disposable vessel that helps the mind interact with the physical world.
The new evidence of a bidirectional relationship suggests that metaphysical beliefs may help some individuals cope with threatening or harmful situations.
Researchers believe the studies show that simple procedures can have a profound impact on health-related attitudes and behaviors. For example, interventions that reduce dualistic beliefs through priming could be one way to help promote healthier — or less self-damaging — behaviors in at-risk populations.
A discussion of these findings is forthcoming in Psychological Science.