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Death and the time of your life: experiences of close bereavement are associated with steeper financial future discounting and earlier reproduction

Lookup NU author(s): Gillian Pepper, Professor Daniel Nettle


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Evolutionarily-based theories predict that people should adopt a faster life history strategy when their mortality risk is high. However, this raises the question of what cues evolved psychological mechanisms rely on when forming their estimates of personal mortality risk. In a sample of 600 North Americans, we examined associations between ideal or actual reproductive timing and two possible cues to mortality risk: 1) the total number of people a person knew who had died (death exposure); and 2) the number of those people to whom they felt close (bereavement). We also took a measure of financial future discounting, in order to establish whether experiences of death or bereavement are associated with a more general shortening of time horizons. We found that a greater number of bereavements were robustly associated with a lower ideal age at first birth, or an increased hazard of an actual first birth at any given age and with steeper future discounting. We did not find significant associations between any of these outcomes and overall death exposure. This suggests that the deaths of people with whom one is close may be a more salient cue for the calibration of reproductive and financial time horizons than the deaths of more distant acquaintances. (C) 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pepper GV, Nettle D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Evolution and Human Behavior

Year: 2013

Volume: 34

Issue: 6

Pages: 433-439

Print publication date: 01/11/2013

Online publication date: 14/09/2013

Acceptance date: 06/08/2013

ISSN (print): 1090-5138

ISSN (electronic): 1879-0607

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.08.004


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