The grim reasoner: Analytical reasoning under mortality salience


The human species enjoys uniquely developed capacities for analytical reasoning and rational decision making, but these capacities come with a price; They make us aware of our inevitable physical death. Drawing on terror management theory and dual-process theories of cognition, we investigate the impact of mortality awareness on analytical reasoning. Two experiments show that experimentally induced thoughts of death impair analytical reasoning performance, just as cognitive load would. When made aware of their own mortality, reasoners allocate their executive resources to the suppression of this disturbing thought, therefore impairing their performance on syllogisms that require analytic thought. This finding has consequences for all aspects of rational thinking that draw on executive resources, and calls for an integrated approach to existential psychology and the psychology of rational thought.

Thinking and Reasoning
JF Bonnefon
JF Bonnefon
Behavioral Scientist