Does awareness of death strengthen awareness of self? The effects of existential threat on self-focus

  • Chih-Long YenEmail author
  • Chung-Ping Cheng
  • Chin-Lan Huang
  • Yi-Cheng Lin


Drawing on Kelly's (1955) personal construct theory, which suggests that human constructs typically contain their opposites. This study proposed that people facing death threat might be prompted to concern their existence, therefore pay more attentions on themselves. Two studies were conducted to explore the effects of death threat on self-focus. Study one analyzed data of six mortality salience experiments by using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) text analysis program. Study two was a case study analyzing a cancer patient’s writings. Both studies found that people use more first-person singular pronouns when reminded of their mortality. The results indicated that death threat increases self-focus.


LIWC Self-focus Self awareness Death anxiety 



This study was funded by Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (grant number103–2410-H-130 -010 -).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Chih-Long Yen declares that he has no conflict of interest. Chung-Ping Cheng declares that he has no conflict of interest. Chin-Lan Huang declares that she has no conflict of interest. Yi-Cheng Lin declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Counseling and I/O PsychologyMing Chuan UniversityTaipei CityTaiwan
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNational Cheng Kung UniversityTainanTaiwan
  3. 3.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesNational Taiwan University of Science and TechnologyTaipeiTaiwan
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyNational Taiwan UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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