Death Can Be Good for Your Health: Fitness Intentions as a Proximal and Distal Defense Against Mortality Salience

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Although terror management theory has stimulated a wide body of research, no research to date has demonstrated empirically that intentions to engage in health‐oriented behavior can function as a terror management defense. Toward this end, the present studies examined whether increased fitness intentions could be used as both a direct defense against conscious concerns with death, but also as an indirect defense against unconscious death concerns among individuals for whom fitness is important to their self‐esteem. In Study 1, both high and low fitness esteem participants responded to reminders of mortality with immediate exaggerated fitness intentions, relative to controls. Study 2 replicated this effect, but also found that a similar increase in fitness intentions only emerged following a delay when fitness was important to the individuals’ self‐esteem. Discussion focuses on the implications for different types of psychological defense on heath‐related behavior.

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Journal of Applied Social Psychology, v. 33, issue 8, p. 1726-1746