A previous post showed that knowing homicide victims made a person take more sex partners, even after controlling for age, race, sex, education, and one's own violent experiences, such as having been punched or having been threatened with a gun.
Terror Management Theory is a body of research that shows how people respond differently when they're primed with thoughts of death. That naturally links into my focus on rising-crime vs. falling-crime cultures. In that paradigm, though, they don't distinguish violent from non-violent death, or even within violent deaths, those that are self-inflicted (suicide) or other-inflicted (homicide).
So for the earlier result, is it something about exposure to a murder that triggers this change in
behavior, or will any kind of death have the effect? Does violence need
to play a role in the death? My explanation in the first post was that it had to be caused by someone else because that gives you the signal that there seem to be more bad guys out there, almost closing in on your own social circle. Feeling that squeeze motivates people to get on with getting it on before it's too late. That is general -- they should start "things," whatever they are, earlier and try to accomplish their goals sooner.
The General Social Survey also asks if you know anyone who committed suicide in the past year. I repeated the procedure from the case of knowing homicide victims, but this time there is no effect of exposure to death, even a violent death. In a similar regression as before, but swapping suicide for homicide victims, the "know someone who was killed" variable is no longer a significant predictor, not even close.
Repeating the look at 18-39 year-olds who had ever been hit or punched (to control for a person's level of rambunctious or wild lifestyle), those who knew a suicide victim had exactly the same number of partners as those who did not. Those who knew a suicide victim were equally likely to have had 2+ partners, and slightly more likely to have had 0. This again is in contrast to the effect of knowing homicide victims, within this young and wild sub-population.
So, just being exposed to death in real life, even a violent one, does not appear to put one's feet to the fire and alter their daily behavior. It specifically has to be a violent death caused by someone else. The interpretation is that you don't change your own behavior if you feel the cause of violent death couldn't also cause yours, as in suicide, but only where the cause of their death might also seek you out, as in homicide.
One prediction that I don't know how to test right away is that you should see something similar, although less pronounced, if the cause of violent death were not an agent -- say, a recurring series of earthquakes that graphically claimed the life of someone you knew, and could well claim yours tomorrow. It's not as motivating as believing that there are agents out there purposefully targeting people, but it still has that "we're all in the same boat" feeling.
GSS variables used: partners, suiknew, gun, hit, age, sex, race, educ