The Effect of Mortality Salience and Type of Life on Personality Evaluation

Fernando Gordillo, Lilia Mestas, José M. Arana, Miguel Ángel Pérez, Eduardo Alejandro Escotto


Mortality salience, or awareness of the inevitability of one’s own death, generates a state of anxiety that triggers a defense mechanism for the control of thinking that affects different human activities and psychological processes. This study aims to analyze the effect of mortality salience on the formation of impressions. The sample comprised 135 women who made inferences about a woman’s personality from information about her life (type of life, LT: positive, negative), provided through five words, all positive or negative, that appeared surrounding a photograph, together with a sixth word that indicated whether she was “dead” or “alive” at the time (mortality manipulation, MM: dead, alive). The results pointed to a more negative assessment of life (Dead M - Alive M = -1.16, SE = .236, p < .001), emotional stability (Dead M - Alive M = -1.13, SE = .431, p = .010), and responsibility (Dead M - Alive M = -1.14, SE = .423, p = .008) only when the participants had access to negative information about the person assessed, and she was known to be dead. We discuss the results within the framework of Terror Management Theory, and analyze the different effects that the manipulation of mortality has on the formation of impressions depending on the type of information available.


emotion; formation of impressions; Terror Management Theory; personality; prominence of death

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