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Acta Psychologica Sinica    2019, Vol. 51 Issue (12) : 1341-1350     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.01341
Reports of Empirical Studies |
Adaptive time management: The effects of death awareness on time perception and intertemporal choice
WANG Peng1,WANG Xiaotian2(),GAO Juan1,3,LI Xialan1,XU Jing1
1 School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
2 School of Humanities and Social Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen 518172, China
3 Shanghai Dianji University, Shanghai 201306, China
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Death awareness refers to thinking about and the recognition of the inevitability of personal death. As a critical component of the human-unique ability of autonoetic consciousness, death awareness can be viewed as a cognitive adaptation for time management. We hypothesize that activating death awareness may affect intertemporal choice, in which people make tradeoffs between rewards across different time points. Such effects of death awareness on intertemporal choice may be mediated by time perception, a subjective assessment of the speed of time passage. In this research, we investigate the impact of death awareness on time perception and intertemporal choice, and the relationships among them.
Study 1 examined the relationship between death awareness and time estimation. Eighty-three college students were randomly assigned to either a death awareness activation group where mortality was made salient to the participants or a control group where the participants imagined their toothache experience. After a word-search distraction task, the participants in both groups completed a time-passage (400ms, 800ms, 1200ms, 1600ms) estimation task. The results showed that the participants in the group of death awareness activation gave significantly shorter estimates than the participants in the control group.
Study 2 (n = 123) extended the measure of time perception to a more extended period and also measured the delay discounting rate of the participants from their intertemporal choices between a smaller-and-sooner reward and a larger-and-later reward. The participants were randomly assigned to either a death awareness activation group or a toothache awareness activation group. The participants then indicated how long ten years was to them by marking on a line with the statement “10 years is very short” on the left end side of the line and the statement “10 years is very long” on the right end side. The participants in the death-awareness activation group marked the line closer to the left end (“life is short”) than those in the control group. As predicted, the participants in the death-awareness activation group had a lower delay discounting rate and were more future-oriented in making intertemporal choices. Moreover, bootstrapping analysis revealed a partial mediation effect of time-passage estimation between death awareness and delay discounting.
In conclusion, death awareness serves adaptive functions in time management. Activating death awareness makes people feel that time passes more quickly and promotes future-oriented decisions.

Keywords adaptation      time management      death awareness      time perception      intertemporal choice      delay discounting     
ZTFLH:  B842  
Corresponding Authors: Xiaotian WANG     E-mail:
Issue Date: 21 October 2019
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Xiaotian WANG
Juan GAO
Xialan LI
Jing XU
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Peng WANG,Xiaotian WANG,Juan GAO, et al. Adaptive time management: The effects of death awareness on time perception and intertemporal choice[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2019, 51(12): 1341-1350.
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控制变量 死亡意识启动实验组 非死亡意识启动控制组
正性情绪 3.30 0.55 3.18 0.57
负性情绪 2.34 0.56 2.31 0.68
预期寿命 84.29 9.99 85.12 10.83
当前获得的收益/元 延迟至未来获得的收益
840 31天后获得3480元
2730 4天后获得8190元
1680 939天后获得2311元
3570 183天后获得4620元
3990 527天后获得4200元
3150 25天后获得5160元
1260 184天后获得2760元
控制变量 死亡意识启动实验组 非死亡意识启动控制组
正性情绪 3.08 0.63 3.18 0.67
负性情绪 2.27 0.66 2.15 0.67
预期寿命 80.63 9.24 81.77 12.19
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