Article

More than words: Contemplating death enhances positive emotional word use

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Abstract

Four experiments, three cross-sectional and one longitudinal, tested the hypothesis that contemplating one’s own death produces a shift toward the use of positive emotion words. Participants who wrote about their own death, compared with those who wrote about dental pain, uncertainty, and meaningless, used more positive emotions words in their narratives (Experiments 1a and 1b). Experiment 2 found that contemplating one’s own death enhanced positive emotional word use across different mortality salience manipulations and remained consistent over the course of a 6-day study. Experiment 3 showed that the more positive emotion words participants used when contemplating their mortality, the greater worldview defense they showed. These results suggest that word use offers insight into how the mind responds to the salience of mortality.

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... thinking about dental pain) activated a non-conscious emotional coping response that was counterintuitive to the overt emotional distress one might expect, such that participants completed ambiguous word stems with relatively more positive emotion words and favored positive emotional associations in judgments of word similarity. Also, findings by Kashdan et al. (2014) indicated that such a shift toward the use of positive emotion words may be involved in regulating the fear of death: writings of individuals contemplating death (vs. people thinking about dental pain, uncertainty, or meaninglessness) showed an increased use of positive emotional language. ...
... We hypothesized that if tuning in to emotional positivity acts as a psychological mechanism aimed at coping with the threat of mortality (DeWall and Baumeister, 2007;Kashdan et al., 2014), it would be reflected in the emotional word use in death row inmates' final statements such that death row inmates would use a higher proportion of positive than negative emotion words. We further hypothesized that the immense existential threat that real-life executions evoke would lead to a higher proportion of positive emotion words compared with word usage base rates (Pennebaker et al., 2007b) as well as compared with the words of individuals contemplating death (Kashdan et al., 2014) or individuals attempting or committing suicide (Handelman and Lester, 2007). ...
... We hypothesized that if tuning in to emotional positivity acts as a psychological mechanism aimed at coping with the threat of mortality (DeWall and Baumeister, 2007;Kashdan et al., 2014), it would be reflected in the emotional word use in death row inmates' final statements such that death row inmates would use a higher proportion of positive than negative emotion words. We further hypothesized that the immense existential threat that real-life executions evoke would lead to a higher proportion of positive emotion words compared with word usage base rates (Pennebaker et al., 2007b) as well as compared with the words of individuals contemplating death (Kashdan et al., 2014) or individuals attempting or committing suicide (Handelman and Lester, 2007). Drawing on postulations by SST , we further aimed to explore the relations between positive emotional word use and language indicative of self-references, social orientation, cognitive processing, time orientation, and personal concerns with religion and death. ...
Article
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How do individuals emotionally cope with the imminent real-world salience of mortality? DeWall and Baumeister as well as Kashdan and colleagues previously provided support that an increased use of positive emotion words serves as a way to protect and defend against mortality salience of one’s own contemplated death. Although these studies provide important insights into the psychological dynamics of mortality salience, it remains an open question how individuals cope with the immense threat of mortality prior to their imminent actual death. In the present research, we therefore analyzed positivity in the final words spoken immediately before execution by 407 death row inmates in Texas. By using computerized quantitative text analysis as an objective measure of emotional language use, our results showed that the final words contained a significantly higher proportion of positive than negative emotion words. This emotional positivity was significantly higher than (a) positive emotion word usage base rates in spoken and written materials and (b) positive emotional language use with regard to contemplated death and attempted or actual suicide. Additional analyses showed that emotional positivity in final statements was associated with a greater frequency of language use that was indicative of self-references, social orientation, and present-oriented time focus as well as with fewer instances of cognitive-processing, past-oriented, and death-related word use. Taken together, our findings offer new insights into how individuals cope with the imminent real-world salience of mortality.
... Similarly, comparing the last words of executed prisoners with people's general ideas about death and dying, we found that death row inmates' final statements contained a significantly larger proportion of words reflecting positive affect than the writings of people contemplating their own death (cf. Hirschmüller and Egloff, 2016, Table 3; Kashdan et al., 2014). ...
... Most of these studies have used death essay questions-asking participants to write about the emotions that thoughts of their own death arouse in them and what they think will happen to them as they physically die-and compared participants' answers with people's writings about non-death-related control topics (Burke et al., 2010). For example, Kashdan et al. (2014) found that the writings of people who had answered questions about their own death included more positive emotion words than control groups' writings about dental pain, uncertainty, or meaninglessness. Further studies have emphasized the role of effects of mortality salience on relational strivings and the relevance of close relationships (Mikulincer et al., 2003) and religious beliefs (Vail et al., 2010;Halberstadt and Jong, 2014). ...
Article
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Executions are one form of death that can be assumed to be maximally anxiety provoking. Words spoken by death row inmates moments before their execution can provide valuable insights into people's end-of-life communication needs and themes, conveying what individuals choose to express to others in the face of imminent death. In this focused review, we describe findings from quantitative and qualitative text analysis studies that have analyzed affective experiences and meaning-making attempts in transcriptions of actual statements made by Texas death row inmates. Overall, the most prevalent content themes identified in these final acts of verbal communication in the reviewed studies consisted of a strong predominance of emotional positivity, messages to relevant social others, and spiritual references. We subsequently view the reviewed findings in the light of additional research in which people's conceptions of death and dying were explored and language studies in which people's communication before other forms of death was analyzed. Finally, we describe open questions and directions for future analyses of death row inmates' final statements, and we outline practical implications.
... Indeed, 80% of the statements that they sampled contained more positive emotion words than negative ones. They also compared the statements with results from a study where participants were asked to contemplate their own death (Kashdan et al., 2014) as well as suicide notes preceding actual or attempted death (Handelman & Lester, 2007), and in both cases found that the statements contained a higher proportion of positive emotion words. ...
Article
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Over the past two decades, a growing body of work has emerged in the social sciences that explores various aspects of capital punishment in the contemporary United States. This article reviews one strand of this literature that focuses on the execution ritual itself – specifically on condemned inmates’ last meals and the final statements that they make in the execution chamber just prior to their execution. It also discusses some of the limitations of the research and offers some ideas for future scholarship in this area.
... Previous research within the TMT framework that has examined the effects of Mortality Salience (MS) on language use has shown that MS sometimes increases the use of language that reflects causation (Landau et al., 2009); it is associated with greater use of positive emotion words (Kashdan et al., 2014); and that MS boosts linguistic style mimicry with a conversation partner (Cox & Kersten, 2016). Importantly, whereas most research into TMT has examined mortality salience in laboratory contexts, the current work provides evidence that comes from a highly ecological setting. ...
Article
What happens when entire populations are exposed to news of impending existential threats? In the current study, we address this question by investigating the association between existential threats and the certitude of societal discourse. According to appraisal theory, threats give rise to anxiety and perceptions of uncertainty; as such, it predicts that exposure to life-threatening events will increase expressions of uncertainty. An alternative possibility is that people will respond to threats by utilizing psychological compensation mechanisms that will give rise to greater expressions of certainty. Across two studies, we measured linguistic certainty in more than 3.2 million tweets, covering different psychological contexts: (i) the 15 major terrorist and school shooting events that took place between 2016 and 2018; (ii) the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent with the idea of compensatory processing, the results show that levels of expressed certainty increased following intentional and natural existential threats. We discuss the implications of our findings to theories of psychological compensation and to our understanding of collective response in the age of global threats.
... Previous research within the TMT framework that has examined the effects of Mortality Salience (MS) on language use has shown that MS sometimes increases the use of language that reflects causation (Landau et al., 2009); it is associated with greater use of positive emotion words (Kashdan et al., 2014); and that MS boosts linguistic style mimicry with a conversation partner (Cox & Kersten, 2016). Importantly, whereas most research into TMT has examined mortality salience in laboratory contexts, the current work provides evidence that comes from a highly ecological setting. ...
Preprint
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What happens when entire populations are exposed to news of impending existential threats? In the current study, we address this question by investigating the association between existential threats and the certitude of societal discourse. According to appraisal theory, threats give rise to anxiety and perceptions of uncertainty; as such, it predicts that exposure to life-threatening events will increase expressions of uncertainty. An alternative possibility is that people will respond to threats by utilizing psychological compensation mechanisms that will give rise to greater expressions of certainty. Across two studies, we measured linguistic certainty in more than 3.2 million tweets, covering different psychological contexts: (i) the 15 major terrorist and school shooting events that took place between 2016-2018; (ii) the COVID-19 pandemic. Consistent with the idea of compensatory processing, the results show that levels of expressed certainty increased following intentional and natural existential threats. We discuss the implications of our findings to theories of psychological compensation and to our understanding of collective response in the age of global threats.
... Evans, Walters and Hatch-Woodruff [29] asked undergraduates to write a narrative about their own hypothetical death or the death of another, and found writing about the death of another was associated with more realistic considerations of death (pain, negative emotions). A related series of experiments by Kashdan and colleagues [30] found that undergraduates asked to write a narrative about their own hypothetical death used more positive emotion words compared to those who wrote about dental pain, perhaps to direct attention away from the threat of their mortality. Concurring with this, linguistic analysis of blog posts by people with terminal illness showed less use of negative affect words and more positive affect words than seen in simulated blogs by non-patients imagining imminent death [16]. ...
Article
Understanding public attitudes towards death is needed to inform health policies to foster community death awareness and preparedness. Linguistic sentiment analysis of how people describe their feelings about death can add to knowledge gained from traditional self-reports. This study provided the first description of emotive attitudes expressed towards death utilising textual sentiment analysis for the dimensions of valence, arousal and dominance. A linguistic lexicon of sentiment norms was applied to activities conducted in an online course for the general-public designed to generate discussion about death. We analysed the sentiment of words people chose to describe feelings about death, for themselves, for perceptions of the feelings of ‘others’, and for longitudinal changes over the time-period of exposure to a course about death ( n = 1491). The results demonstrated that sadness pervades affective responses to death, and that inevitability, peace, and fear were also frequent reactions. However, words chosen to represent perceptions of others’ feelings towards death suggested that participants perceived others as feeling more negative about death than they do themselves. Analysis of valence, arousal and dominance dimensions of sentiment pre-to-post course participation demonstrated that participants chose significantly happier (more positive) valence words, less arousing (calmer) words, and more dominant (in-control) words to express their feelings about death by the course end. This suggests that the course may have been helpful in participants becoming more emotionally accepting in their feelings and attitude towards death. Furthermore, the change over time appeared greater for younger participants, who showed more increase in the dominance (power/control) and pleasantness (valence) in words chosen at course completion. Sentiment analysis of words to describe death usefully extended our understanding of community death attitudes and emotions. Future application of sentiment analysis to other related areas of health policy interest such as attitudes towards Advance Care Planning and palliative care may prove fruitful.
... The mean of 2.74 positive emotion words for each entry in Pennebaker and colleagues' (2015) dataset was statistically significantly lower than that of the prisoners' dataset average of 9.64 found in Hirschm€ uller and Egloff (2016) study. The death-row inmates, in fact, were even more positive than presumably comfortable college students asked to contemplate their own death and commit their thoughts to paper (Kashdan et al., 2014), and, not surprisingly, more positive than people who died by suicide and left notes (Handelman & Lester, 2007). ...
Article
We consider here whether African-Americans executed on death row in Texas are consequently (a) more likely to have committed economically-motivated secondary crimes during the commission of homicide/attempted homicide, and whether these inmates were (b) less likely to express being sorry in their final statements before execution. Our study revealed support for the following hypothesized patterns: Caucasian offenders used a greater number of sorry-related words in their last statements, on average, compared with African-American offenders. In addition, homicides/attempted homicides committed by African-Americans were significantly more likely to have included a secondary economically-motivated crime (e.g., robbery). Subsequent analyses revealed that offender race significantly mediated the effects of economic secondary crime commission and “emotional intensity” on expressed sorrow in final statements.
... Therefore, people who are frequently involved in religious activities are more comfortable with death and more open to the hospice philosophy of care (Ellis & Wahab, 2013;Jonas & Fischer, 2006). Second, prior studies have focused on the beneficial health effects of mortality salience using a TMT framework (DeWall & Baumeister, 2007;Kashdan et al., 2014;Vail et al., 2012). Our findings provide evidence of the general premise of TMT that more exposure to the mortality salience addressing personal discomfort with death may reduce death anxiety, improve comfort with talking about death, and then have better attitude or better management of EOL care. ...
Article
In end‐of‐life (EOL) care research, death anxiety and religiosity are often overlooked. Terror management theory (TMT) may provide a useful conceptual model with which to examine how comfort discussing death and religiosity influence attitudes related to EOL care. A telephone‐based survey was conducted among community‐dwelling adults in the Unites States. Via random sampling, with over‐sampling of Hispanics/African Americans, 123 completed survey interviews (response rate = 46%) were analyzed. Respondents were more likely to have better attitudes toward EOL care if they were older or white, religiously active, and comfortable with the subject of death. Religiosity and comfort discussing death were correlated with each other and remained significant predictors of attitudes about EOL care even without demographic covariates. Findings suggest that promoting an open dialogue about mortality may improve attitudes about EOL care and utilization of palliative care services. The study also provides evidence about the utility and applicability of TMT for EOL care.
... It is an extension of Neurominer, a text analysis tool based on Neurolinguistics that uses Text Mining and Psychometry techniques to identify and classify PRSs of individuals based on loaded texts [18] [19]. This classification process counts words of the message (sensory-words) also contained in a LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count) dictionary, which stores the psychological characteristics (in our context, neurolinguistic profile or RS) of each sensory-word [20] [21]. ...
Conference Paper
Empathy plays an important role in social interactions, for example, in effective teaching-learning processes, in teacher-student relationships, and in the company-client or employee-customer relationships, retaining potential partners and providing them with greater satisfaction. In parallel, the Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) support people in their interactions, especially when the interlocutors are geographically distant from one another. In CMC, there are several approaches to promote empathy in social or human- computer interactions. However, for this type of communication, a little explored mechanism to gain empathy is the use of the theory of Neurolinguistics that presents the possibility of developing a Preferred Representation System (PRS) for cognition in humans. In this context, this paper presents an experimental evaluation of the NeuroMessenger, a collaborative messenger library that uses Neurolinguistics, Psychometry and Text Mining to promote empathy among interlocutors, from the PRS identification and suggestion of textual matching. The results showed that the performance with the use of NeuroMessenger, in favor of empathy, was higher, as well as there was an evidence statistically significant of the difference between the distribution of grades in the empathy evaluation, in favor of NeuroMessenger. Despite the results are satisfactory, more research on textual matching to gain empathy is needed.
... Neurominer uses Text Mining and Psychometry techniques to identify and classify PRSs of individuals based on loaded texts [31,32]. This classification process is based on the counting of words contained in a LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count) dictionary, which contains the psychological characteristics (in our context, neurolinguistic profile) of each term contained in it [33,34]. ...
Chapter
Empathy plays an important role in social interactions, such an effective teaching-learning process in a teacher-student relationship, and company-client or employee-customer relationship to retain potential clients and provide them with greater satisfaction. Increasingly, the Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) support people in their interactions, especially when the interlocutors are geographically distant from one another. In CMC, there are different approaches to promote empathy in social or human-computer interactions. However, a little explored approach to gaining empathy in CMC is the use of the theory of Neurolinguistics that presents the possibility of developing a Preferred Representation System (PRS) for cognition in humans. This paper presents an initial experimental evaluation of the NeuroMessenger, a collaborative messenger library that uses the theory of Neurolinguistics to promote empathy by PRS identification and suggestion of textual matching based on the given PRS, using psychometry and text mining. The results showed that there was a difference between the means of grades in the empathy evaluation, in favor of NeuroMessenger. Although it is initial study, the results are encouraging, and more research on textual matching to gain empathy is needed.
... More specifically, and considering basic cognitive processes such as attention, a recent study has reported a bias towards the positive information generated by MS (Kashdan et al., 2014); that is, when 114 the idea of death enters our consciousness, a bias towards positive information occurs. This could be understood as a deviation of our attentional focus towards what is positive, thus preventing the entry of negative information. ...
Thesis
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En la presente Tesis se ha investigado el efecto de variables verbales y no verbales en la valoración de la personalidad desde la perspectiva de la formación de impresiones. En los dos primeros apartados se sitúa al lector en los aspectos más relevantes de los denominados “contexto verbal” y “contexto no verbal”, tanto en lo referido a los procesos cognitivos como al sustrato neuronal que soporta su correcto funcionamiento, entendiendo que, aún siendo una Tesis que se situaría dentro del ámbito de influencia de la Psicología Social, se requiere tener presente las estructuras cerebrales implicadas y que en último término estarían soportando los efectos encontrados en los sesgos valorativos. El tercer apartado se ha centrado en los procesos de formación de impresiones, teoría y recientes investigaciones, que derivarán de manera natural en los objetivos de investigación; es decir, en el análisis del efecto de la interacción entre la información verbal y no verbal en la valoración de la personalidad, teniendo en cuenta, además, las posibles implicaciones en diferentes tópicos y ámbitos de investigación, como la Teoría de la Gestión del Terror y los procesos judiciales, que serán tratados en los dos últimos apartados de la introducción, y desarrollados en mayor profundidad en los artículos correspondientes. Con este objetivo, la primera fase del trabajo consistió en elaborar un paradigma que permitiera medir el efecto de la interacción entre la información verbal y no verbal sobre la valoración de la personalidad. Una vez preparado se puso a prueba para comprobar su sensibilidad en los dos primeros estudios de esta Tesis, donde se comprobó que el contexto verbal que rodea una expresión facial tiene efectos tanto en el posterior reconocimiento de la expresión emocional (experimento 1) como en la valoración de los rasgos de la personalidad, en concreto respecto a la sociabilidad (experimento 2). Una vez comprobada la sensibilidad del paradigma se aplicó a una muestra amplia de sujetos compuesta por 301 estudiantes (experimento 3). Los resultados evidenciaron un efecto significativo de la interacción entre los aspectos verbales y no verbales en la valoración de los rasgos de personalidad: la coherencia positiva entre la información verbal (información positiva) y no verbal (expresión de alegría) presentadas por separado en la fase de codificación y valoración respectivamente, generó una impresión más positiva en los rasgos de estabilidad emocional, amabilidad y sociabilidad. Los dos últimos trabajos (experimentos 4 y 5), indagaron sobre los efectos encontrados en el anterior experimento, pero en ámbitos como el de la Teoría de la Gestión del Terror y los procedimientos judiciales. En ambos estudios se evidenció un efecto importante del contexto verbal sobre la valoración de la personalidad en presencia de una expresión facial. Por un lado, se puso de manifiesto que la prominencia de mortalidad generaba un decremento en los valores de la personalidad percibida solo cuando venía asociada a un contexto verbal negativo (valoración más negativa de la estabilidad emocional y la responsabilidad); por otro lado, se evidenció que la información negativa que rodea el proceso judicial de un acusado daba lugar a una valoración más negativa de los rasgos referidos a la estabilidad emocional, responsabilidad y amabilidad, que en último término podría sesgar el procesamiento de la información vertida durante el juicio. La presente Tesis ha puesto de manifiesto los siguiente puntos sobre los que se debería seguir profundizando: 1) el contexto verbal tiene un importante papel modulador en la valoración de la personalidad; 2) la congruencia entre la información verbal y no verbal, así como el momento de la codificación de la información, son dos variables a tener en cuenta en futuras investigaciones que indaguen sobre este tópico de investigación; 3) las implicaciones de estos resultados se centran en los sesgos valorativos encontrados, que podrían afectar en diferente grado a las interacciones sociales dentro de ámbitos tan sensibles como el judicial. En el último apartado de esta Tesis se desarrollarán los aspectos más relevantes, que a modo de conclusiones e integración de los resultados obtenidos, permitirán una perspectiva más clara de las limitaciones y futuras líneas de investigación que se podrían emprender.
... More specifically, and considering basic cognitive processes such as attention, a recent study has reported a bias towards the positive information generated by MS (Kashdan et al., 2014); that is, when the idea of death enters our consciousness, a bias towards positive information occurs. This could be understood as a deviation of our attentional focus towards what is positive, thus preventing the entry of negative information. ...
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The hypothesis that mortality salience (MS) motivates aggression against worldview-threatening others was tested in 4 studies. In Study 1, the experimenters induced participants to write about either their own death or a control topic, presented them with a target who either disparaged their political views or did not, and gave them the opportunity to choose the amount of hot sauce the target would have to consume. As predicted, MS participants allocated a particularly large amount of hot sauce to the worldview-threatening target. In Studies 2 and 3, the authors found that following MS induction, the opportunity to express a negative attitude toward the critical target eliminated aggression and the opportunity to aggress against the target eliminated derogation. This suggests that derogation and aggression are two alternative modes of responding to MS that serve the same psychological function. Finally, Study 4 showed that MS did not encourage aggression against a person who allocated unpleasant juice to the participant, supporting the specificity of MS-induced aggression to worldview-threatening others. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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The authors propose that volitional action is supported by intuitive affect regulation, defined as flexible, efficient, and nonrepressive control of own affective states. Intuitive affect regulation should be most apparent among action-oriented individuals under demanding conditions. Consistent with this, a demanding context led action-oriented individuals to down-regulate negative affect in self-reports (Study 1), in an affective Simon task (Study 2), and in a face discrimination task (Study 3). In line with the idea that intuitive affect regulation is guided by top-down self-regulation processes, intuitive affect regulation in a face discrimination task was mediated by increases in self-accessibility (Study 3). No parallel effects emerged among action-oriented participants in a nondemanding context or among state-oriented participants.
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The relation between social anxiety and hedonic activity remains poorly understood. From a self-regulatory perspective, we hypothesized that socially anxious individuals experience diminished positive experiences and events on days when they are unable to manage socially anxious feelings adequately. In this 21-day experience-sampling study, we constructed daily measures of social anxiety and emotion regulation. Greater dispositional social anxiety was associated with less positive affect and fewer positive events in everyday life. Among individuals defined as socially anxious from their scores on a global self-report measure of social anxiety, the number of positive events was lowest on days when they both were more socially anxious and tended to suppress emotions and highest on days when they were less socially anxious and more accepting of emotional experiences. Irrespective of dispositional social anxiety, participants reported the most intense positive emotions on the days when they were both least socially anxious and most accepting of emotional experiences. Possible clinical implications are discussed.
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