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Avi Caspi, Gilad Hirschberger, Tsachi Ein-Dor, Ari Z. Zivotofsky; Looking away from death: The influence of subliminal priming on eye movement decisions. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):488. doi: 10.1167/6.6.488.
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Terror management theory (TMT) posits that the denial of personal mortality is a central motivation underlying many human behaviors. According to TMT, reminders of death induce proximity-seeking with culturally-similar others. Recent studies have also shown that death reminders lead to emotional withdrawal from others who may remind people of their fragile, mortal nature, such as people with physical disabilities. The current research examined whether subliminal death primes influence eye movement decisions. In three experiments participants were subliminally primed with the word “death” or with a control word, and then viewed a matrix of 4 images while their eye position was monitored using a video-based eye tracker. Experiment 1 indicated that primes of death increased the viewing time of a picture of a religious person, but did not affect the viewing time of pictures with non-identified persons. Experiment 2 indicated that primes of death decreased the time participants looked at pictures of severely injured persons, and also decreased the time they looked at neutral pictures that were presented alongside the injury pictures. Experiment 3 indicated that primes of death did not affect the viewing time of neutral pictures when they were not presented together with injury pictures. These results indicate that subliminal primes of death influence eye movement decisions. Moreover, subliminal death primes may serve as a “knob” that may shift one's gaze towards or away from visual stimuli that are relevant to terror management defenses.
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