An experiment investigated whether the enhanced importance of the ingroup as a consequence of the salience of death thoughts is a unconscious defense mechanism. Scottish participants were subliminally primed with either the word death or field. Subsequently, they were asked to classify a series of pictures as either English or Scottish, and to state whether a series of negative traits applied to the English or not. Results showed that participants primed with the word death were more likely to exclude targets that looked more like outgroup than ingroup members, than participants in the field (control) prime condition. The pattern observed on the categorization-latency also supported the claim that death-prime participants are more careful in classifying targets. Finally, death-prime participants also conveyed more negative, stereotypical judgments of the English in a trait attribution task. The implications of the results are discussed in relation to terror management theory and social identification phenomena. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.