Breaking apart the typical mortality salience manipulation: Two questions, two outcomes


Chris J. Burgin, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, USA.



The typical mortality salience manipulation asks participants to reflect on two questions, one about the emotions associated with the thought of death and the other about what happens after one dies. In five experiments, we separated these two questions and gave participants either one or a control question. In Experiment 1, participants' responses to the afterlife question were coded as being informed more by cultural knowledge and values compared with responses to the emotion question. Experiments 2 and 3 demonstrated that participants responding to the afterlife question showed greater stereotype usage compared with those responding to the emotion or a control question. In Experiment 4, results illustrate that the afterlife and emotion question differ on various coding dimensions related to self-focus, emotion, and culturally related death words, but not death-related words. In addition, participants who responded to the afterlife question demonstrated greater cultural worldview defense by setting a higher bail for an alleged prostitute compared with those who answered the emotion or a control question. In Experiment 5, participants responding to the emotion question demonstrated a greater preference for personally endorsed values compared with those who responded to the emotion or a control question. These results suggest that the two questions used in the common mortality salience manipulation produce different results when separated. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.