The Effect of Mortality Salience on Bodily Checking Behaviours in Anxiety Disorders

Menzies, R.E. (University of Sydney), Sharpe, L. (University of Sydney), Dar-Nimrod, I. (University of Sydney)

Over the last three decades, a body of research emerging from the Terror Management Theory has demonstrated the impact of death cognitions on a variety of behaviours. More recently, fears of death have been argued to underpin numerous mental disorders. Supporting this idea, the mortality salience (MS) paradigm has demonstrated that reminders of death exacerbate symptoms of some mental health conditions, such as social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The present study used the mortality salience (MS) paradigm to investigate whether reminders of death exacerbate the bodily checking behaviours that characterise many anxiety disorders.  Treatment-seeking participants with either a health-focused anxiety disorder (i.e., panic disorder, illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder), or a depressive disorder (i.e., health-irrelevant), were randomly allocated to either a MS or control priming condition. Following the prime, participants completed an online task requiring them to check their own body and select an image which most closely matched their own body feature. It was hypothesized that those in the MS condition would spend more time checking their body, than those in the control condition, suggesting that thoughts of death worsen symptoms of these disorders. The current results and implications of the study will be discussed.

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