Influence of Mortality Salience on Effort-Related Cardiovascular Response to an Identity-Relevant Challenge

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Participants were presented a task relevant to their identity after having been exposed to a prime that made mortality more or less salient. For half, difficulty was fixed at a low level; for the rest, difficulty was unfixed. Blending logic from terror management theory (TMT) and an analysis concerned with determinants and cardiovascular (CV) correlates of effort, we predicted that effort and associated CV responses would be (a) greater under high salience conditions when the challenge was unfixed, but (b) low regardless of salience when the challenge was fixed. Findings for systolic blood pressure (SBP) confirmed this, with responses for heart rate (HR), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), and mean arterial pressure (MAP) following. Results document uniquely a key TMT implication. They also tell us how mortality reminders should affect existential striving and suggest that existential terror should affect CV responses indirectly by affecting striving.

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