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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Oct;9(10):1601-7. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst157. Epub 2013 Sep 27.

Existential neuroscience: effects of mortality salience on the neurocognitive processing of attractive opposite-sex faces.

Author information

1
Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Clinical Radiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, and Department of Psychology, University of Vienna, Austria Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Clinical Radiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, and Department of Psychology, University of Vienna, Austria.
2
Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Clinical Radiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, and Department of Psychology, University of Vienna, Austria.
3
Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Clinical Radiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, and Department of Psychology, University of Vienna, Austria Institute of Medical Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Human Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Department of Psychology, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA, Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Clinical Radiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, Institute of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany, and Department of Psychology, University of Vienna, Austria kristina.hennig-fast@univie.ac.at.

Abstract

Being reminded of the inherently finite nature of human existence has been demonstrated to elicit strivings for sexual reproduction and the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships. Recently, it has been proposed that the perception of potential mating partners is influenced by mortality salience. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the neurocognitive processing of attractive opposite-sex faces after priming with death-related words for heterosexual men and women. Significant modulations of behavioral and neural responses were found when participants were requested to decide whether they would like to meet the presented person. Men were more in favor of meeting attractive women after being primed with death-related words compared to a no-prime condition. Increased neural activation could be found under mortality salience in the left anterior insula and the adjacent lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) for both men and women. As previously suggested, we believe that the lPFC activation reflects an approach-motivated defense mechanism to overcome concerns that are induced by being reminded of death and dying. Our results provide insight on a neurocognitive level that approach motivation in general, and mating motivation in particular is modulated by mortality salience.

KEYWORDS:

attractiveness; fMRI; lateral prefrontal cortex; mortality salience; terror management theory

PMID:
24078106
PMCID:
PMC4187282
DOI:
10.1093/scan/nst157
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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