top of page

What Voodoo Deaths Reveal About Our Beliefs Regarding Stress

Updated: Mar 2

Cannon (1942) studied voodoo deaths in shamanistic cultures and published speculation about how beliefs can produce lethal cascades of system failure in the American Anthropologist. Graphic © Fer Gregory/

Voodoo doll

Keller et al. (2012) conducted a regression analysis of the 1998 National Health Interview Survey and prospective National Death Index data from 28,753 adults. Both elevated levels of reported stress and the perception that stress negatively impacted health independently and jointly predicted poor physical and psychological health outcomes. While neither variable independently predicted premature death, those who reported high levels of stress and the perception that stress impacts health experienced a 43% greater risk of early death.

Check out Kelly McGonigal's TED Talk How to Make Stress Your Friend. McGonigal proposes that we train clients to reframe sympathetic activation as evidence of our courage to rise to a challenge instead of the body injuring itself.

Kelly McGonigal


Summary Adults reporting high stress levels and who believed that stress is harmful had a 43% greater risk of early death. McGonigal proposes that we reframe sympathetic activation as our courageous response to overcome challenges. Learn More

References Cannon, W. (1942). Voodoo death. American Anthropologist, 44, 169–181. Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Healthy Psychology, 31(5), 677-684.

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page