Reflecting on Death May Lead to Increased Creativity

man thinking about life and purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment in which many people have a heightened awareness of death. There are two main different reactions to death awareness – death anxiety and death reflection. Death anxiety is an emotional response to death characterized by dread and fear upon becoming aware of one’s own mortality. Death reflection, on the other hand, is a cognitive response to death that is characterized by more thoughtful reflection, such as by thinking about the meaning and purpose of life. 

Previous research has shown death awareness to be associated with negative outcomes for organizations. However, most research has focused on death anxiety rather than death reflection. 


New research (Takeuchi et al., 2021) examined the relationship between death awareness and creativity among employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers collected data from employees using surveys at four time points, each spaced one week apart. The results of the study showed that death reflection was associated with increased creativity over time, while death anxiety was unrelated to creativity. 

The authors say that reflecting on death may motivate some people to demonstrate their core values or improve the lives of others. They might accomplish this by thinking of creative or novel solutions to problems.


These results suggest that there may be a positive aspect of heightened death awareness, such that death reflection is related to greater creativity. The researchers suggest that organizations could promote behavior and activities that foster death reflection during times when death awareness may be high among employees – for example, during a pandemic or following the death of a coworker. 

However, the researchers also mention that organizations must recognize they are not experts in dealing with death. Leadership should instead consider bringing in outside experts to provide counseling and support for employees who are dealing with death.

Takeuchi, R., Guo, N., Teschner, R. S., & Kautz, J. (2021). Reflecting on death amidst COVID-19 and individual creativity: Cross-lagged panel data analysis using four-wave longitudinal data. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(8), 1156-1168.