An Unscathed Past in the Face of Death: Mortality Salience Reduces Individuals’ Regrets

Rudert, Selma Carolin; Reutner, Leonie; Walker, Mirella; Greifeneder, Rainer (2015). An Unscathed Past in the Face of Death: Mortality Salience Reduces Individuals’ Regrets. Journal of experimental social psychology, 58(May), pp. 34-41. Elsevier 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.12.006

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Folk wisdom and popular literature hold that, in the face of death, individuals tend to regret things in their lives that they have done or failed to do. Terror Management Theory (TMT), in contrast, allows for the prediction that individuals who are confronted with death try to minimize the experience of regret in order to retain a positive self-esteem. Three experiments put these competing perspectives to test. Drawing on TMT, we hypothesized and found that participants primed with their own death regret fewer things than control-group participants. This pattern of results cannot be attributed to differing types of regrets (Study 1). Furthermore, we provide evidence suggesting that the effect is not purely a product of cognitive mechanisms such as differing levels of construal (Study 2), cognitive contrast, or deficits (Study 3). Rather, the reported results are best explained in terms of a motivational coping mechanism: When death is salient, individuals strive to bolster as well as protect their self-esteem and accordingly try to minimize the experience of regret. The results add to our conceptual understanding of regret and TMT, and suggest that a multitude of lifestyle guidebooks need updating.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Walker, Mirella


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology








Mirella Walker

Date Deposited:

24 Mar 2015 15:14

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2015 09:24

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Terror management, Mortality salience, Regret, Death, Self-esteem




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