Impact Factor 2.129 | CiteScore 2.40
More on impact ›

Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01893

Effects of mortality salience on physiological arousal

  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Austria
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Austria

Making the inevitability of mortality salient makes people more defensive about their self-esteem and worldviews. Theoretical arguments and empirical evidence point to a mediating role of arousal in this defensive process, but evidence from physiological measurement studies is scarce and inconclusive. The present study seeks to draw a comprehensive picture of how physiological arousal develops over time in the mortality salience paradigm, and whether contemplating one’s mortality actually elicits more physiological arousal than reflecting on a death-unrelated aversive control topic. In a between-subjects design, participants were asked two open questions about their mortality or about dental pain. Cardiac, respiratory, and electrodermal indicators of arousal were measured both as participants provided written answers to the questions, and during a series of resting intervals surrounding the questions. A Bayes factor analysis indicated support for the hypothesis that the mortality salience paradigm increases physiological arousal, both while answering the two open-ended questions and afterwards. Regarding the mortality salience versus dental pain comparison, the null hypothesis of no difference was supported for most analysis segments and signals. The results indicate that the arousal elicited by mortality salience is not different from that elicited by dental pain salience. This speaks against the idea that worldview defense following mortality salience occurs because mortality salience produces higher physiological arousal. Of course, this finding does not rule the importance of other forms of arousal (i.e., subjective arousal) for mortality salience effects.

Keywords: Mortality salience, Physiological arousal, arousal misattribution, threat and defense, Worldview defense

Received: 12 Feb 2019; Accepted: 31 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Nathan A. Heflick, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Jolie B. Wormwood, University of New Hampshire, United States
Shiri Ben Naim, Peres Academic Center, Israel  

Copyright: © 2019 Klackl and Jonas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Johannes Klackl, University of Salzburg, Department of Psychology, Salzburg, Austria, johannes.klackl@sbg.ac.at