Death awareness, or mortality salience, has the potential to motivate people to engage in healthy behavior, such as diet/exercise, sleep, and religious/spiritual importance, especially when the behaviors are perceived as reducing the connection between a particular health risk and death. One-hundred-and-eighty-three participants completed a survey to assess whether mortality salience priming, compared to a dental pain control, influences an individual's perceptions of healthy behaviors as important after priming compared to before priming, and if certain behaviors are ranked preferentially in importance to others. Self-esteem levels and age were also measured to determine if condition-induced anxiety and perceptions of behavioral importance varied with these factors. Overall, while mortality salience priming did significantly increase participant anxiety levels compared to the control, this death awareness did not translate into increased perceptions on the importance of healthy behaviors. Across both conditions, however, participants perceived healthy behaviors as more important after priming compared to before priming, with certain behaviors viewed as more important than others after priming. Lower self-esteem was found to result in increased anxiety as well as result in a greater difference in perceived behavioral importance post-priming compared to before priming in mortality salience participants. Further, older participants were found to score healthy behaviors as more important. This study suggests that death awareness can influence an individual's anxiety levels, but other factors such as age and self-esteem may serve as stronger predictors of perceived behavioral importance than condition alone.
Hoffman, Catherine Grace, "Does Mortality Salience Priming Influence an Individual's Perceptions of Healthy Behaviors as Important?" (2021). Undergraduate Student Research Awards. 77.