Does the thought of death accelerate a fast life history strategy?: Evaluating a mortality salience prime

Author/Creator ORCID





Citation of Original Publication

Frederick, M; Khan, H; Ancona, M. (2016). Does the thought of death accelerate a fast life history strategy?: Evaluating a mortality salience prime. EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium. pp. 13-21.



The characteristics of the developmental environment can have long-term effects on an individual's metabolism, stress-sensitivity, hormone levels, and gene expression. Life history theory suggests these outcomes can be broadly viewed as individual strategies along a continuum from 'fast' to 'slow', with stressful environments predisposing individuals towards faster, more short-term oriented strategies. Griskevicius et al. (2011a) reported an interaction between childhood socioeconomic status and a mortality prime when measuring economic impulsivity using a delay-discounting task. Specifically, participants who grew up in wealthier homes responded to a mortality prime by becoming less impulsive, while those who grew up less wealthy reacted to the prime by becoming more impulsive. The current study sought to replicate and expand upon these findings using a sample of university undergraduates (66 females and 19 males). Participants were exposed to a mortality prime, an anxiety prime, or a neutral prime before completing a questionnaire that included questions about childhood socioeconomic status and a delay discounting survey. When the results of the delay discounting measure were analyzed, no significant interaction between childhood environment and priming condition was observed. Thus, we failed to replicate the findings of Griskevicius et al. (2011a). We suggest that the limited saliency of the mortality prime may account for this discrepancy, and note that the results of other priming studies have often been difficult to replicate. Limitations and future directions for priming studies and life history research are discussed.