From terror to joy: automatic tuning to positive affective information following mortality salience

Psychol Sci. 2007 Nov;18(11):984-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.02013.x.


Reminders of death tend to produce strong cognitive and behavioral responses, but little or no emotional response. In three experiments, mortality salience produced an automatic coping response that involved tuning to positive emotional information. Subjects showed increased accessibility of positive emotional information (Experiments 1 and 3) and gave more weight to positive emotion in their judgments of word similarity (Experiment 2) after contemplating death than after thinking about dental pain. This automatic coping response was found both after a delay (Experiments 1 and 2) and directly after the mortality-salience manipulation (Experiment 3), which suggests that the coping process begins immediately. Tuning to positive emotional information in response to mortality salience was unconscious and counterintuitive (Experiment 3). These findings shed light on the coping process that ensues immediately following mortality salience and help to explain why a delay is often necessary to produce effects in line with terror management theory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Automatism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male