Lecture 8: Death
What Causes of Death Do We Fear Most?
Evolution has given us a relatively clear impression of what is most dangerous and what
forms of death/threat levels to fear most.
Perceived risk can be flawed, however. More deadly: Car accident or stomach cancer?
(Cancer.) More die of lightning or tornadoes? (Lightning.)
Biased assessments of causes of death:
A lot of common fears are vastly overestimated risks: Tornado, flood, all cancer,
venomous bites, homicide, car accidents. We think of these risks as fatal, often
only attend to the deaths in these cases.
Underestimate: Lightning, diabetes, stroke, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema.
Often attend to living versions of these risks, not the deaths.
Statistically more likely to get in accident in the car on the way to the airport than on the
If it bleeds, it leads. World seems more dangerous to people than is the case because
of the media coverage of horrible events.
Stroop task: Conflict between two stimuli -- reading words spelling one word that is a
different color (trying to say the color of the word is difficult due to interference).
What does the brain do naturally and what does it do with focus?
People are slower to name the color of negative words than positive words;
paying attention to the negativity, slows brain down. (When asked if they
remembered any of them, they were more likely to remember the negative
We retain negativity and pay greater attention to negativity.
Awareness that we all die eventually -- the inevitability of death.
Terror management theory: Idea that humans are the only organisms that are aware of
their own death. Everything will end, etc. This could be terrifying or immobilizing - need
some defense mechanism to handle the terror and thought.
Overcome terror with denial. Belief in afterlife.
Having more children to continue genes (Men).
Distancing from the earthly, corporeal elements of life and the self. Study:
When reminded of own mortality, the romantic/spiritual/soully importance
of sex is more emphasized than the physical part.
Worldview defense: Even without kids, you can still live on through the
things you believed in or identify with. I might die but Im an American and
America will live on yada yada. If this thing I believe in is under attack, I
will try to save it. Date
Self-esteem striving: If you didnt really care about any of these things,
want to feel like you were a good version of whatever you were, will care
even more about being a good example of whatever things live on. I.e.
might not care much for America, but mortality salient control makes one
prefer a pro-US speech and drastically dislike an anti-US speech.
In a mortality salient setting, people trying to perform tasks will be
more reluctant to use US flag/cross in inappropria