Beyond Death’s (and Conception’s) Door: The Unsettling Limitations of Incarnate Existence

Christopher T. Burris (Lead / Corresponding author), Fabio Sani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The psychological effects of contemplating one’s death have received much empirical attention, but the impact of thinking about one’s conception—the other temporal endpoint of physical existence—has not. Across three experiments, reflecting on conception or death (vs. a neutral topic) led to increased framing of sexual reproduction as miraculous and sacred, intensified belief in discarnate immortality, and a greater desire to experience a discarnate state that offered no direct assurance of literal immortality. Thinking about death uniquely evoked greater anxiety as well as greater desire for an experience that offered assurance of literal immortality, congruent with the tenets of terror management theory. Nevertheless, the parallel effects evoked by reflecting on conception and death also suggest that both amplify the aversive salience of the limitations inherent to physical existence, such that people respond by seeking experiences and adjusting attitudes/beliefs to divert attention from the physical body.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-123
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal for the Psychology of Religion
Issue number2
Early online date16 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • General Psychology


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