In brief: Death and the candidates

In brief

Death and the candidates

An ingenious experiment suggests that people reminded of their own deaths are attracted to visionary, charismatic leaders who promise them a form of symbolic immortality.

About 200 students were divided into two groups. In the first group, they were asked to describe the emotions aroused by the thought of their own deaths and to write what they thought would happen to them when they died. The second group responded to similar questions with reference to taking examinations rather than dying. Then all read campaign statements from imaginary candidates for governor of the state.

The statements were designed to represent three types of leadership. The charismatic candidate proclaimed an overarching vision, said he would "take chances," and suggested that the voters belonged to "a special state and a special nation." The "task-oriented" candidate emphasized realistic goals, detailed blueprints, efficiency, and providing the resources needed to get the job done. The "relationship-oriented" candidate spoke of the need to inform everyone, recognize everyone's contributions, and encourage all citizens to take an active role in government.

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