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From Terror to Joy: Automatic Tuning to Positive Affective Information Following Mortality Salience

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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.
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... D'après la TSS, ce seraient également les perspectives d'avenir réduites qui entraîneraient l'apparition d'effets de positivité. Quelques études ont en effet suggéré un lien direct entre la réduction des perspectives d'avenir et l'apparition de l'effet, chez des sujets modérément âgés (< 80 ans en général) et des sujets jeunes { perspective d'avenir réduites artificiellement(Barber et al., 2016;DeWall & Baumeister, 2007;Kellough & Knight, 2012;O'Brien & Ellsworth, 2012; ...
... D'après le modèle DIT, l'effet de positivité serait donc la conséquence des dégradations liées au vieillissement de l'organisme. Les données disponibles laissent pourtant penser que les effets de positivité seraient dissociés des atteintes cérébrales et cognitives liées au vieillissement normal, puisque des perspectives d'avenir réduites semblent les générer { elles seules chez des sujets jeunes(Barber et al., 2016;DeWall & Baumeister, 2007;O'Brien & Ellsworth, 2012;Pruzan & Isaacowitz, 2006). Toutefois, de la même façon que chez les sujets âgés, il n'a jamais été montré si les effets de positivité attentionnels provoqués par un futur limité (artificiellement ou par la pathologie) aidaient les jeunes adultes à augmenter leurs affects positifs. ...
Thesis
D’après l’hypothèse de la double voie de traitement des émotions, une émotion peut être traitée soit de façon explicite, c’est-à-dire volontairement, soit de façon implicite, en faisant appel à des processus automatiques. Les traitements émotionnels implicites et explicites reposeraient sur l’activité de réseaux cérébraux partiellement distincts. Des données comportementales et en neuroimagerie laissent penser que ces deux types de processus seraient différemment touchés par le vieillissement normal de l’organisme. L’objectif de ce travail de thèse était d’évaluer les différences de traitement émotionnel entre sujets jeunes (20 – 40 ans) et plus âgés (60 ans et plus) en fonction du niveau de traitement cognitif engagé (contrôlé, automatique). En regard de la littérature sur le vieillissement émotionnel, nous nous attendions à ce que les processus automatiques de traitement de l’émotion soient mieux préservés au cours du vieillissement que les processus contrôlés. Grâce à des mesures comportementales et neurophysiologiques, cette hypothèse a été testée dans trois domaines de recherche : 1) la reconnaissance des expressions faciales émotionnelles, 2) l’effet de positivité lié à l’âge, et 3) la régulation émotionnelle. Dans leur ensemble, les résultats suggèrent que les mécanismes automatiques de perception et de régulation de l’émotion seraient toujours fonctionnels dans le vieillissement, et potentiellement responsables de certains phénomènes comme l’effet de positivité. Les processus de traitement explicite seraient plus altérés, notamment au niveau de la reconnaissance des expressions faciales émotionnelles et de la suppression expressive.
... Mortality salience. Disasters and accompanying death-related media also heighten mortality salience, that is, awareness of the inevitability of one's death [19][20][21]. The psychological and behavioral literature on mortality salience has revealed that increased mortality salience may result in compulsive shopping or consumption, substance use, or other risky behaviors [22][23][24], particularly among the highly materialistic individuals [25] and those with low self-esteem [26]. ...
... Table 2). This pronounced lift is potentially driven by the elevated mortality salience and perceived loss of control after the hurricane, hence escalated desire for family comfort, affection, and social acceptance [19,20]. Interestingly, when comparing the treated, partially treated, and control cities altogether, we find that the partially treated cities displayed an even stronger lift in family colocation (.0234) than treated city (.0193; Wald Test: p<0.01), revealing the powerful impact of the disaster upon the populations beyond the landfall city. ...
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Disasters, from hurricanes to pandemics, tremendously impact human lives and behaviors. Physical closeness to family post-disaster plays a critical role in mental healing and societal sustainability. Nonetheless, little is known about whether and how family colocation alters after a disaster, a topic of immense importance to a post-disaster society. We analyze 1 billion records of population-scale, granular, individual-level mobile location data to quantify family colocation, and examine the magnitude, dynamics, and socioeconomic heterogeneity of the shift in family colocation from the pre- to post-disaster period. Leveraging Hurricane Florence as a natural experiment, and Geographic Information System (GIS), machine learning, and statistical methods to investigate the shift across the landfall (treated) city of Wilmington, three partially treated cites on the hurricane’s path, and two control cities off the path, we uncover dramatic (18.9%), widespread (even among the partially treated cities), and enduring (over at least 3 months) escalations in family colocation. These findings reveal the powerful psychological and behavioral impacts of the disaster upon the broader populations, and simultaneously remarkable human resilience via behavioral adaptations during disastrous times. Importantly, the disaster created a gap across socioeconomic groups non-existent beforehand, with the disadvantaged displaying weaker lifts in family colocation. This sheds important lights on policy making and policy communication to promote sustainable family colocation, healthy coping strategies against traumatic experiences, social parity, and societal recovery.
... To our knowledge, the present research is the first to show that the effects of mortality salience can be moderated by lower level cognitive processes-that is, automatic responses to emotions. In addition, the finding that displays of happiness can improve outgroup attitudes under mortality salience adds to research showing increased sensitivity to emotionally evocative stimuli after mortality salience (Holbrook et al., 2011) and increased attention towards positive affective information under mortality salience-presumably as a coping mechanism to deal with the overwhelming terror associated with one's prospective demise (De Wall & Baumeister, 2007). The current research suggests that in a social context, this increased attention to positive signals may have the added benefit of strengthening the bond that someone feels with others outside one's immediate social group. ...
Article
The present research investigates how emotional displays shape reactions to ingroup and outgroup members when people are reminded of death. We hypothesized that under mortality salience, emotions that signal social distance promote worldview defense (i.e., increased ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation), whereas emotions that signal affiliation promote affiliation need (i.e., reduced ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation). In three studies, participants viewed emotional displays of ingroup and/or outgroup members after a mortality salience or control manipulation. Results revealed that under mortality salience, anger increased ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation (Study 1), enhanced perceived overlap with the ingroup (Study 3), and increased positive facial behavior to ingroup displays—measured via the Facial Action Coding System (Studies 1 and 2) and electromyography of the zygomaticus major muscle (Study 3). In contrast, happiness decreased ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation (Study 2), and increased positive facial behavior towards outgroup members (Study 3). The findings suggest that, in times of threat, emotional displays can determine whether people move away from unfamiliar others or try to form as many friendly relations as possible.
... Based on terror management theory, studies found that mortality salience can lead individuals to more risk-taking behaviors to boost self-esteem. Fear of death induces an involuntarily focus on positive emotional information (DeWall & Baumeister, 2007), such that individuals actively participate in more risky behaviors (Hart et al., 2010). ...
Article
The current study is to explore the associations between the threat to life and risk-taking behaviors across different domains during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the role of the perceived threat and coping efficacy in these associations based on protection motivation theory. This study conducted an online survey on 2983 participants from 30 provinces in China. It found that people's risk-taking behaviors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic could be divided into stimulating risk-taking (SRT) behaviors and instrumental risk-taking (IRT) behaviors. The exposure level to the COVID-19 pandemic was negatively related to SRT behaviors in natural/physical, gambling, safety, moral, and reproductive domains, but not related to IRT behaviors in financial and corporation/competition domains. Two parallel routes were found in domain-specific risk-taking behaviors when people were faced with a life-threatening epidemic. Specifically, perceived threat consistently mediated the positive relationship between exposure level and risk-taking behaviors across domains. In contrast, coping efficacy mediated the negative relationship between exposure level and SRT behaviors but positive associations with IRT behaviors. These findings indicated that coping efficacy, rather than perceived threat is the factor that explains the people's domain-specific risk-taking behaviors in the context of the epidemic. The study holds implications for emergency policy-making that targets disaster risk reduction by increasing the public coping efficacy, which could prevent unnecessary SRT behaviors and improve necessary IRT behaviors in business and investment for economic recoveries.
... Although these are all important means of buffering against death anxiety, our findings offer another important dimension of coping with death anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic following De Wall and Baumeister's reason that: "Clutching happy thoughts may serve the function (central to terror management theory) of preventing the conscious mind from being paralyzed by the terror of death" (p. 984) [63]. ...
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According to Terror Management Theory (TMT), there are three common buffers that minimize the anxiety of mortality salience: affirmation of a) one’s cultural worldview, b) the self and one’s personal values, and c) one’s significance in the context of close personal relationships. The current study aimed at examining the contents of memes, which were distributed on social media during the COVID-19 outbreak, to explore the means by which humor buffers against death anxiety. A deductive and inductive thematic analysis captured three means by which humor buffers against death anxiety, a) humor as a means for connecting to cultural worldviews; b) humor as a means for inclusion in group; c) humor as a means to gain a sense of control. These findings are discussed through the theoretical lens of TMT.
... Bayesian factor analysis of nine physiological indexes including heart rate, mean arterial pressure, and respiratory rate showed no significant differences between the two groups. 15 Furthermore, some studies have shown that the emotions triggered by death reminders are more positive than those triggered by non-death reminders 16 and that the understanding of death can also promote internal growth. 17 The typical emotion measure used in TMT research is the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), which is usually completed immediately after the death reminder. ...
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Purpose: This study explored the relationship between emotion and death-thought accessibility (DTA) in individuals experiencing true mortality salience (MS), specifically, patients with cancer. Patients and methods: The study included 255 participants; among them, 132 patients had cancer and represented the MS group, and 123 had dental pain and served as a control group. Participants completed the Projective Diseases Attitude Assessment Questionnaire to induce priming, completed an affect scale, completed one of four calculation tasks as manipulation of cognitive load (all four were done over several sessions), and performed a Pinyin-Chinese characters exercise to measure DTA. Results: MS was associated with strong negative emotional arousal. When these negative emotions are generated, they enter an individual's consciousness and activate proximal defense mechanisms. At this point, DTA can be measured. Patients with cancer had significantly higher levels of DTA in the high-frequency cognitive load condition than in the other three conditions (no task, simple delay task, and single cognitive load task). Patients with dental pain had significantly higher levels of DTA in the no task and simple delay conditions than in the single cognitive load or high-frequency cognitive load conditions. This study also found that negative experiences without MS (specifically, dental pain) are associated with higher levels of DTA. Conclusion: These findings suggest that in addition to death-related events, both negative and stress-inducing events can produce DTA.
... Proximal defenses are used when death is in conscious focus and tend to be rational, threat focused, and designed to address the problem of death directly through denying vulnerability or distracting oneself (Pyszczynski et al., 1999). For example, denying vulnerability to health risk factors (Greenberg et al., 2000), increasing intentions to behave in healthy ways Taubman Ben-Ari and Findler, 2005), and distracting oneself with positive emotions (DeWall and Baumeister, 2007). Once thoughts of death are outside of conscious awareness, distal defenses of worldview defense and self-esteem maintenance and enhancement take over. ...
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According to terror management theory, humans rely on meaningful and permanence-promising cultural worldviews, like religion, to manage mortality concerns. Prior research indicates that, compared to religious individuals, atheists experience lower levels of meaning in life following reminders of death. The present study investigated whether reminders of death would change atheists' meaning in life after exposure to normative support for atheism. Atheists (N = 222) were either reminded of death or a control topic (dental pain) and exposed to information portraying atheism as either common or rare, and then asked to rate their perceived meaning in life. Results showed that reminders of death reduced meaning in life among atheists who were told that atheism is common. Results were consistent with the view that atheism reflects the rejection of religious faith rather than a meaningful secular terror managing worldview. Discussion considers implications for maintaining healthy existential wellbeing, identifies limitations, and highlights future research directions.
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Historically, social psychologists have focused on defining and exploring the effects of interpersonal ostracism, occurring when individuals feel excluded, rejected, or ignored by an individual or specific group of people. Here, we define what we have called institutional ostracism wherein people feel ignored, excluded, or rejected by an institution through cues in the environment, such as policies and structures. We start by considering the existing literature on ostracism, synthesizing and integrating respected and well-supported theoretical frameworks (i.e., temporal need-threat model). We propose a distinction between interpersonal and institutional ostracism along a new taxonomic dimension of interaction type, with subcomponents of interpersonal ostracism and the addition of institutional ostracism. Finally, we discuss how this theoretical perspective can expand understanding of ostracism and articulate convergence and divergence with institutional discrimination. We conclude with a call to action for research to study institutional ostracism, in the hopes of understanding a frequently-experienced phenomenon.
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This chapter proposes that the potential for abject terror created by the awareness of the inevitability of death in an animal instinctively programmed for self-preservation and continued experience lies at the root of a great deal of human motivation and behavior. This chapter presents the results of a substantial body of research that attests to the broad influence of the problem of death on human social behavior and illuminates the processes through which concerns about mortality exert their influence. The chapter overviews the primary assumptions and propositions of terror management theory and a description of the initial research conducted to test the theory. It presents a detailed consideration of more recent research that establishes the convergent and discriminant validity of the mortality salience treatment and the robustness of its effects through the use of alternative mortality salience treatments and comparison treatments, and replications by other researchers; it extends the range of interpersonal behaviors that are demonstrably influenced by terror management concerns. Moreover, it demonstrates the interaction of mortality salience with other theoretically relevant situational and dispositional variables, and provides an account of the cognitive processes through which mortality salience produces its effects. Finally, this chapter discusses the relation of terror management motives to other psychological motives and gives a consideration of issues requiring further investigation.
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If stereotypes function to protect people against death-related concerns, then mortality salience should increase stereotypic thinking and preferences for stereotype-confirming individuals. Study 1 demonstrated that mortality salience increased stereotyping of Germans. In Study 2, it increased participants' tendency to generate more explanations for stereotype-inconsistent than stereotype-consistent gender role behavior. In Study 3, mortality salience increased participants' liking for a stereotype-consistent African American and decreased their liking for a stereotype-inconsistent African American; control participants exhibited the opposite preference. Study 4 replicated this pattern with evaluations of stereotype-confirming or stereotype-disconfirming men and women. Study 5 showed that, among participants high in need for closure, mortality salience led to decreased liking for a stereotype-inconsistent gay man. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Chapter
This chapter examines some of the literature demonstrating an impact of affect on social behavior. It will consider the influence of affect on cognition in an attempt to further understand on the way cognitive processes may mediate the effect of feelings on social behavior. The chapter describes the recent works suggesting an influence of positive affect on flexibility in cognitive organization (that is, in the perceived relatedness of ideas) and the implications of this effect for social interaction. The goal of this research is to expand the understanding of social behavior and the factors, such as affect, that influence interaction among people. Another has been to extend the knowledge of affect, both as one of these determinants of social behavior and in its own right. And a third has been to increase the understanding of cognitive processes, especially as they play a role in social interaction. Most recently, cognitive and social psychologists have investigated ways in which affective factors may participate in cognitive processes (not just interrupt them) and have begun to include affect as a factor in more comprehensive models of cognition. The research described in the chapter has focused primarily on feelings rather than intense emotion, because feelings are probably the most frequent affective experiences. The chapter focuses primarily on positive affect.
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Traditional theories of categorization in which categories are assumed to be grounded in perceptual similarity or theories ignore an important basis of conceptual structure: the emotion that a stimulus elicits in a perceiver. This article discusses the nature of, constraints on, and conditions of use of emotional response categories. Experiments in which participants sorted triads of concepts that shared both emotional and nonemotional relations indicate that individuals use emotional response categories when they are experiencing emotional states. Multidimensional scaling of similarity judgments by emotional and nonemotional perceivers supports a selective attention mechanism of these effects. Participants induced to feel happy or sad emotional states weighted the emotional responses associated with stimuli more heavily than people in relatively neutral states. The triad and multidimensional scaling findings, along with functional considerations, suggest that emotional response categorization is not only tenable, but necessary for a complete account of categorization. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)