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The great escape: Why awareness of mortality can be bad for health

University of Kent

The great escape: why awareness of our own mortality can be bad for our health

People with low self-esteem use a variety of escape mechanisms to avoid thinking about their own mortality, new research reveals.

Researchers led by Dr Arnaud Wisman, of the University of Kent's School of Psychology, found evidence in five studies that people with low self-esteem respond to reminders of their own mortality by directing their focus away from the 'self'.

The research found an empirical and causal link between people with low self-esteem having unconscious concerns about their own mortality and then employing a variety of ways to escape from self-awareness. The study demonstrated this link both inside and outside the laboratory.

This escape from self-awareness took the form of avoiding writing about the self, heightened alcohol consumption and less activation of self-related thoughts, the researchers discovered.

In addition to drinking more alcohol in response to a mortality reminder, people with low self-esteem may be more likely to choose to engage in any number of health risk behaviors such as drug use, binge eating, smoking, and cutting that are conducive to escaping self-awareness. This would enable them to, at least in the short term, avoid negative self-awareness.

It is expected that these the findings will have implications for future public health policy decision-making.


The paper, entitled The great escape: The role of self-esteem and self-related cognition in terror management, is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. See:

For a copy of the paper or interview requests for Dr Wisman contact Martin Herrema at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 01227 823581/01634 888879


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Notes to editors

Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 28th in the Sunday Times University League Table 2013; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

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