Thursday, July 4, 2019

Death awareness: Terror management or cognitive adaptation to time management?

Death awareness: Terror management or cognitive adaptation to time management? X.T. Wang, Peng Wang. Human Behavior and Evolution Society 31st annual meeting. Boston 2019.

Abstract: Death awareness refers to thinking about and recognizing the inevitability of one’s own death. According to the popular terror management theory, death awareness is a common source of many irrational defensive reactions to existential anxiety. However, an evolutionary perspective suggests that death awareness is an essential part of human-unique autonoetic consciousness, and should be viewed as a cognitive adaptation to the problems of resource management, mainly time management. In three studies, we explored proactive effects of death awareness, activated experimentally or experientially by the affliction of cancer. In Studies 1 and 2, compared to a control group, the participants who contemplated death underestimated the passage of time in a time-perception task and had a lower delay-discounting rate, indicated by a more future-oriented preference for a larger-and-delayed reward to a smaller-and-immediate reward. In Study 3, cancer patients, when compared with non-cancer patients with more curable diseases, overestimated the passage of time and had a higher delay discounting rate (more present-oriented) when making intertemporal choices. These findings do not support defensive reactions predicted from terror management theory. Instead, the results reveal a proactive time management pattern adapted to different types of death awareness: mortality reminder and cancer experience.

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