Faces in the face of Death: Effects of exposure to life-threatening events and mortality salience on facial expression recognition in combat and noncombat military Veterans

David Anaki, Tamar Brezniak, Liron Shalom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Soldiers in war zones often experience life-threatening events that put their lives at stake. The present study examined how these exposures shape soldiers' social behavior, manifested by recognition of facial expressions. In addition, we investigated how explicit awareness of one's eventual death affects sensitivity to facial expressions. Veterans of elite military combat units were exposed to conditions of mortality or pain salience and later requested to label the emotions depicted in threatening and nonthreatening faces. Combat veterans were more accurate than noncombat veterans in identifying threatening expressions, both in mortality or pain salience induction (Experiment 1) or under no induction at all (Experiment 2). In addition, noncombat veterans primed with mortality salience identified fear expressions more accurately than those primed with pain salience. Finally, mortality salience improved accuracy for nonthreatening expressions for all veterans. The present results demonstrate that fear of death, resulting from exposure to concrete life-endangering perils or from thoughts on human's inevitable death, influences perception of facial expressions, which is critical for successful interpersonal communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)860-867
Number of pages8
JournalEmotion
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2012

Keywords

  • Combat veterans
  • Facial expressions
  • Fear of death
  • Mortality salience

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