The dynamics of death and meaning: the effects of death-relevant cognitions and personal need for structure on perceptions of meaning in life. Academic Article uri icon


  • Do reminders of mortality increase or decrease perceptions of life's meaning? The authors propose that death-relevant thought has divergent effects on meaning perceptions depending on individuals' personal need for structure (PNS) or dispositional desire for structured knowledge. In prior research, high-PNS individuals primed with mortality-related stimuli were found to employ clearly structured conceptions of reality. Consequently, these individuals were expected to show stable or even bolstered perceptions of meaning when death thought was heightened. Low-PNS individuals did not show this tendency and were therefore expected to show decreased meaning under heightened death-thought activation. The results of Studies 1a-1d supported these hypotheses. Studies 2 and 3 sought to identify how low-PNS individuals might reaffirm meaning and found that death thought increased their willingness to explore novelty. Studies 4 and 5 directly tested the meaning-conferring function of novelty seeking among low-PNS individuals, showing that the consideration of novel interpretations of the world and their experiences affirmed a sense of meaning in life following reminders of death. Discussion focuses on the relationship between meaning and death and the unique ways low-PNS individuals respond to mortality concerns.

published proceedings

  • J Pers Soc Psychol

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Vess, M., Routledge, C., Landau, M. J., & Arndt, J.

citation count

  • 114

complete list of authors

  • Vess, Matthew||Routledge, Clay||Landau, Mark J||Arndt, Jamie

publication date

  • October 2009