The effects of age and death awareness on intentions for healthy behaviours

Andrea Lee Bevan, Molly Maxfield, Michael N. Bultmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Terror management theory (TMT) suggests that people are motivated to distance themselves from death. One way of doing this is to report greater intentions to engage in health-promoting behaviours following increased awareness of mortality, also referred to as a proximal defense. Older adults' comparatively fewer remaining years and greater likelihood of having significant health problems may result in greater intentions to promote health following mortality reminders, but little is known about their proximal defenses and existing results are inconsistent. The current study examined how older (60-89 years) and younger (18-30 years) adults' intentions for future healthy behaviours were influenced by a death reminder (immediately and after a delay) compared to a control condition. Older adults (60-89 years) indicated greater overall intention to engage in healthy behaviours than younger adults (18-30 years). A two-way interaction revealed that regardless of age, participants engaged in proximal defenses immediately following a death reminder by distancing themselves from death via greater healthy intentions. After a period of delay, participants exhibited a reversal of this pattern, indicating lower intention to engage in healthy behaviours in the mortality condition compared to control. Results are discussed from the perspectives of TMT and terror management health model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-421
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • mortality salience
  • proximal and distal defenses
  • terror management health model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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