Praising the dead: On the motivational tendency and psychological function of eulogizing the deceased
- 296 Downloads
This research presents evidence for a pervasive motivational tendency to praise and idealize the deceased, which functions to mitigate death-related distress. In Study 1, participants were asked to recall a close (vs. distant) other and to imagine that this target person has recently died (vs. not). The subsequent descriptions and evaluations of the target were significantly more positive and less negative after imagining that the target had died. These effects were observed regardless of whether the target was a close or distant other. Study 2 replicated this finding, and provided additional evidence for the pervasiveness of these effects by showing that participants evince the same motivational tendency regardless of whether the target is liked or disliked. Study 3 provided evidence for the psychological function of this tendency by examining death-thought accessibility (DTA) following the manipulations. Results showed that praising a close other (but not a disliked other) after imagining that they have died reduced DTA. Discussion is focused on the psychological functions of eulogies, and applications for understanding the bereavement process.
KeywordsDeath Idealization Eulogy Bereavement Terror management theory
The author would like to thank Agnieszka Hayes for her research assistance in coding the open-ended descriptions provided by participants in Studies 1 and 2.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in these studies.
- Abeyta, A. A., Juhl, J., & Routledge, C. (2014). Exploring the effects of self-esteem and mortality salience on proximal and distally measured death anxiety: A further test of the dual process model of terror management. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 523–528. doi: 10.1007/s11031-014-9400-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Aiken, L. R. (1994). Dying, death, and bereavement (3rd ed.). Toronto, ON: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
- Becker, E. (1971). The birth and death of meaning: An interdisciplinary perspective on the problem of man (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss (vol. 3): Loss, sadness and depression. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Castano, E., Yzerbyt, V., & Paladino, M. (2004). Transcending oneself through social identification. In J. Greenberg, S. L. Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.), Handbook of experimental existential psychology (pp. 305–321). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Gailliot, M. T., Schmeichel, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2006). Self-regulatory processes defend against the threat of death: Effects of self-control depletion and trait self-control on thoughts and fears of dying. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 49–62. doi: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynski, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: Empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 29, pp. 61–139). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Rosenblatt, A., Burling, J., Lyon, D., & Simon, L. (1992). Why do people need self-esteem? Converging evidence of an anxiety-buffering function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 913–922. doi: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1243.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Harmon-Jones, E., Simon, L., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & McGregor, H. (1997). Terror management theory and self-esteem: Evidence that increased self-esteem reduces mortality salience effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 24–36. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Landau, M. J., Johns, M., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Martens, A., Goldenberg, J. L., & Solomon, S. (2004). A function of form: Terror management and structuring the social world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 190–210. doi: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- McGregor, I., Gailliot, M. T., Vasquez, N. A., & Nash, K. A. (2007). Ideological and personality zeal reactions to threat among people with high self-esteem: Motivated promotion focus. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1587–1599. doi: 10.1177/0146167207306280.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- O’Rourke, N., Claxton, A., Kupferschmidt, A. L., Smith, J. Z., & Beattie, B. L. (2011). Marital idealization as an enduring buffer to distress among spouses of persons with Alzheimer disease. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 117–133. doi: 10.1177/0265407510386135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Peters, H. J., Greenberg, J., Williams, J. M., & Schneider, N. R. (2005). Applying terror management theory to performance: Can reminding individuals of their mortality increase strength output? Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 27, 111–116.Google Scholar
- Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Koole, S., & Solomon, S. (2010). Experimental existential psychology: Coping with the facts of life. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., pp. 724–757). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
- Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Baden, D. (2004). Nostalgia: Conceptual issues and existential functions. In J. Greenberg, S. L. Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.), Handbook of experimental existential psychology (pp. 200–214). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar