What Motivates the Lawyer to Participate in the Death Bet?

The first question to ask is what motivates the lawyer to participate in the “death bet.” The lawyer rationalized his decision the night before by stating that any life is better than death. The lawyer’s rationalization included a two-million-dollar prize and fifteen years of retirement. But is this a rationale? The lawyer has several other good reasons for participating in the “death bet,” including loneliness, depression, and belief in oneself and abilities.

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Loneliness has many consequences on an individual’s self-image. It increases implicit hypervigilance to social threats, increases the salience of social cues, and produces negative memory biases. Loneliness may also increase the lawyer’s perception of others, causing him to form negative impressions and forget social interactions. These effects can have negative consequences on an individual’s timescale.

Loneliness can breed more loneliness. Koenen saw the dangers for his mother, who lives alone in Atlanta. She wanted to travel to Boston to see her, but the pandemic had not yet reached her home state. So, Koenen and his brother visited her regularly, asking her to engage with other people. Loneliness hurts the self-esteem of a person, so the lawyer and his brother encouraged her to interact with others.


In an adaptive model of depression, the benefits of depressive symptoms evolved to enhance survival in a pathogenic environment. This model supports the view that depression emerged from sickness behavior, with the lawyer participating in the bet as a means of survival. In contrast, recent models shift the focus from the benefit of depressive symptoms to their adverse effects on survival. This view, however, ignores the role of genes in the development of depressive symptoms.

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