Role of consciousness and accessibility of death-related thoughts in mortality salience effects

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1994 Oct;67(4):627-37. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.67.4.627.


On the basis of terror management theory, research has shown that subtle mortality salience inductions engender increased prejudice, nationalism, and intergroup bias. Study 1 replicated this effect (increased preference for a pro-U.S. author over an anti-U.S. author) and found weaker effects when Ss are led to think more deeply about mortality or about the death of a loved one. Study 2 showed that this effect is not produced by thoughts of non-death-related aversive events. Studies 2 and 3 demonstrated that this effect occurs only if Ss are distracted from mortality salience before assessment of its effects. Study 4 revealed that although the accessibility of death-related thoughts does not increase immediately after mortality salience, it does increase after Ss are distracted from mortality salience. These findings suggest that mortality salience effects are unique to thoughts of death and occur primarily when such thoughts are highly accessible but outside of consciousness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Culture
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prejudice
  • Thinking
  • Time Factors
  • Unconscious, Psychology