Generosity, greed, norms, and death - Differential effects of mortality salience on charitable behavior

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22 Scopus citations


Terror management theory (TMT) states that mortality salience prompts people to follow cultural standards. But many cultures value both generosity and accumulation of wealth. Combining TMT with the focus theory of normative conduct, we suggest that whether mortality salience encourages generosity or greed depends on the norm(s) salient in the situation. In Study 1 mortality salience led Americans to give less money to foreign charities. Study 2 replicated this effect, and showed it can be eliminated by activating a generosity norm. However, people who valued money as highly important donated less money following mortality salience. Study 3 showed that following mortality salience and a fairness prime, people behaved more generously when splitting money between themselves and an anonymous partner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-57
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013



  • Charitable behavior
  • Mortality salience
  • Norms and values
  • Psychology of money

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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