More than words: Contemplating death enhances positive emotional word use

Todd B. Kashdan, C. Nathan DeWall, David R. Schurtz, Timothy Deckman, Emily L.B. Lykins, Daniel R. Evans, Jessica McKenzie, Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Matthew T. Gailliot, Kirk Warren Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Four experiments, three cross-sectional and one longitudinal, tested the hypothesis that contemplating one's own death produces a shift toward the use of positive emotion words. Participants who wrote about their own death, compared with those who wrote about dental pain, uncertainty, and meaningless, used more positive emotions words in their narratives (Experiments 1a and 1b). Experiment 2 found that contemplating one's own death enhanced positive emotional word use across different mortality salience manipulations and remained consistent over the course of a 6-day study. Experiment 3 showed that the more positive emotion words participants used when contemplating their mortality, the greater worldview defense they showed. These results suggest that word use offers insight into how the mind responds to the salience of mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-175
Number of pages5
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Dec 2014


  • Death
  • Defensiveness
  • Positive emotion
  • Terror management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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