Send to

Choose Destination
Health Psychol. 2013 May;32(5):525-32. doi: 10.1037/a0029201.

The interactive effect of mortality reminders and tobacco craving on smoking topography.

Author information

Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.



Although fatal consequences of smoking are often highlighted in health communications, the question of how awareness of death affects actual smoking behavior has yet to be addressed. Two experiments informed by the terror management health model were conducted to examine this issue. Previous research suggests that the effects of mortality reminders on health-related decisions are often moderated by relevant individual difference or situational variables. Thus, a moderated effect was hypothesized here, and cigarette cravings were tentatively explored in this regard.


In both studies, relatively light smokers completed a brief questionnaire about cigarette cravings, were reminded of their mortality or a control topic, and then smoked five puffs from a cigarette while the topography (i.e., volume, duration, and velocity) of their inhalations was recorded.


Significant craving × death reminder interactions emerged in both experiments. After reminders of mortality, stronger cravings predicted greater smoking intensity. Further, reminders of mortality increased smoking intensity for those with stronger cravings in both studies, and there was also some indication that mortality reminders decreased smoking intensity for those with weaker cravings.


Although there are limitations in the present research's utilization of light smokers as opposed to heavy smokers, these findings indicate a nuanced effect of mortality reminders on smoking intensity and suggest that careful consideration needs to be given to when and how reminders of death are used in communications about smoking. The discussion also highlights the benefits of social psychologically informed theory for understanding health and smoking behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for American Psychological Association
Loading ...
Support Center