A Time to Tan: Proximal and Distal Effects of Mortality Salience on Sun Exposure Intentions

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tanning, self-esteem, mortality salience, proximal defenses, distal defenses

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According to the dual defense model of terror management, proximal defenses are engaged to reduce the conscious impact of mortality salience, whereas thoughts of death outside of conscious awareness motivate distal defenses aimed at maintaining self-esteem. Two experiments examined these ideas by assessing women’s intentions to engage in tanning-related behavior. In Study 1, when concerns about death (relative to dental pain) were in focal attention, participants increased intentions to protect themselves from dangerous sun exposure. In contrast, when thoughts about death were outside of focal attention, participants decreased interest in sun protection. In Study 2, participants primed to associate tanned skin with an attractive appearance responded to mortality concerns outside of focal attention with increased interest in tanning products and services. These findings are discussed in relation to the dual-defense model of terror management, societal determinants of self-esteem, and implications for health risk and promotion.

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, v. 30, issue 10, p. 1347-1358.