Are you smarter than a cetacean? Death reminders and concerns about human intelligence

Melissa Soenke, Florette Cohen, Jeff Greenberg, Uri Lifshin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Terror management theory and research indicate that humans cope with concerns about mortality by believing we are more than nonhuman animals. The current studies investigated whether this motivation plays a role in believing humans are more intelligent than other animals. Study 1 had participants think about mortality or another unpleasant topic. The study found that after the death reminder, participants had more negative reactions to a scientific article describing dolphins as smarter than humans, but not to an article that merely focused on dolphins' intelligence. Study 2 had participants read an article about dolphins being smarter than humans or an article describing dolphin intelligence without a comparison to humans. Participants then completed a measure that assessed how close to consciousness thoughts of death were. Those who read that dolphins were smarter than humans exhibited higher levels of death-related thought. These results may have important implications for conserving intelligent animal species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-489
Number of pages21
JournalSociety and Animals
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Animals
  • Creatureliness
  • Death
  • Mortality salience
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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