Study: Thinking about death has health benefits

Along with colleagues, I’ve been conducting a few experiments to directly test the consequences of writing about mortality over time. Participants (college students) write about death or another aversive topic each day for one week, or they just reply to specific questions in an email each day on which they have to spend five to ten minutes – one example they’ve been asked to reflect on is that if you’re aware life is short and that you could die sooner than you think, how does it make you feel and how does it impact you in general?

After seven days they then complete a variety of quantitative measures that assess the extent to which they experienced positive and negative emotions, how they felt about themselves and how much they perceived their behaviour to be intrinsically motivated, in other words autonomous and free from external pressures.

Our research suggests that there are positive psychological effects to writing about mortality. Specifically, participants who are in the repeated death writing group have been reporting lower levels of depression, increased positive mood, increased self-esteem and increased intrinsic motivation.