Terror management theory


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Overview

Terror management theory assumes that humans have developed a suite of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the existential anxiety they experience when they are cognizant of their mortality. Existential anxiety arises because individuals experience a profound motive, derived from evolutionary forces, to preserve their life. Therefore, an awareness of mortality could evoke existential anxiety, corresponding to a sense of futility, unless humans invoke a set of mechanisms that are intended to curb this awareness. Some of these mechanisms include a tendency to believe in an after life, to feel connected to a broader, enduring entity, or to distract attention from their mortality, reflecting a form of denial (Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister,2006).

Worldviews

Defense of worldviews

According to terror management theory, when individuals feel threatened, they often attempt to foster a state called symbolic immortality, attempting to connect themselves as a broader social entity--either some collective, pursuit, or meaning (Simon, Arndt, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1998)--and then fulfilling the values of this collective, manifested as striving to boost self esteem. According to this proposition, individuals should become more inclined to adopt the norms, attitudes, and beliefs of this social entity.

To fulfill this goal, these norms need to be unambiguous. As a consequence, after their mortality is highlighted, individuals feel the need to experience a sense of certain or clarity about their worldviews-the values and purpose in society. These worldviews stipulate the standards that are valued by society. If these standards are fulfilled, individuals feel their achievements will be cherished by society, instilling a sense of permanence. Accordingly, these worldviews imbue life with a sense of meaning and purpose.

As research indicates, individuals are more inclined to defend their cherished worldviews--as well as to perceive members of their own collective more favorably than members of other collectives--after they reflect upon their mortality (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Rosenblatt, Veeder, Kirkland, & Lyon, 1990; for a review, see Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004). For example, mortality salience has also been shown to amplify nationalism (Nelson, Moore, Olvetti, & Scott, 1997). Mortality salience has also been shown to magnify biases against other groups. That is, after mortality is primed, the traditional in-group bias is exacerbated (Harmon-Jones, Greenberg, Solomon, & Simon, 1996).

To illustrate, McGregor, Lieberman, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, Simon, and Pyszczynski (2006) showed that reflecting up mortality, referred to as mortality salience, increases the likelihood that individuals will reject a speaker who expresses a perspective that opposes their own opinions. That is, they become especially inclined to perceive a speaker as likeable, intelligent, and knowledgeable if they share the same--rather than different--values, attitudes, and opinions as this presenter. Similarly, they become more inclined to reject information that challenges their preexisting attitudes (Jonas, Greenberg, & Frey,2003).

Aggression and competition in group settings

Mortality salience has also been shown to amplify the interindividual-intergroup discontinuity effect--the inclination of individuals to be more aggressive and competitive, rather than cooperative and supportive, in team settings (McPherson & Joireman, 2010). To clarify, discussions, negotiations, or other interactions between individuals is often, but not always, cooperative and supportive. That is, individuals often attempt to assist one another. Discussions, negotiations, or interactions between teams or groups, however, tend to be more competitive rather than cooperative (e.g., Insko, Schopler, Hoyle, Dardis, & Graetz, 1990; Meier & Hinsz, 2004).

To illustrate the discontinuity effect, in one study, conducted by Kugler, Bornstein, Kocher, and Sutter (2007), individuals played the trust game. One person or group was assigned the role of a sender. They received 100 schillings and could allocate some, or even all, of this money to another person or group, called the receiver. The receiver could then triple the money and, as a form of reciprocation, return some of this money to the sender. A trusting sender, therefore, would allocate most of the money to the receiver, in the hope this person or group will return a significant portion. A distrusting sender would not allocate this money to the receiver, concerned this person or group may retain all or most of the cash (for more information about similar paradigms, see games).

In some instances, the sender, the receiver, or both was one person. In other instances, the sender, receiver, or both was a team of individuals who could discuss their decision. In general, teams were not as trusting: they did not allocate appreciable money to the receiver. Furthermore, they were more likely to send no money if the receiver was a team than if the receiver was an individual. However, as receivers, teams were as likely as individuals to return most of the money: Teams and individuals were equally trustworthy (for discrepant results, however, see Cox, 2002).

This interindividual-intergroup discontinuity effect has been ascribed to several possible mechanisms. First, in team settings, more competitive, aggressive behavior is often reinforced (Wildschut & Insko, 2007). Second, in these group contexts, individuals do not feel as accountable or identifiable, enabling selfish behavior. Third, in these settings, individuals are more inclined to classify people as either in their group or outside their group. These classifications increase the disparity between themselves and members of other groups, amplifying competition (for a review, see McPherson & Joireman, 2010).

When the prospect of mortality is magnified, individuals seek people who espouse their worldview; they reject anyone who counters their worldview. Hence, their inclination to differentiate members of their own group from members of other groups is amplified. Their suspicion of other groups is increased. The interindividual-intergroup discontinuity effect is thus exacerbated (McPherson & Joireman, 2010).

This argument was corroborated by McPherson and Joireman (2010). In one of their studies, participants were encouraged to reflect upon their own mortality or dental pain. Next, participants completed a measure of mood. Then, participants read an essay that criticized the university they attend. They were told the essay was written either by a person or by a group. Finally, they were granted the opportunity to behave aggressively towards this person or group, in the guise of a taste task, involving hot sauce (see measures of aggression). That is, they were granted an opportunity to request this person or group taste spicy food. The participants were able to specify the amount of this spicy food, demonstrated to be an index of aggression.

In general, participants chose more spicy good in the team setting. This discontinuity effect was especially pronounced after participants contemplated their mortality.

Clarity of worldviews

Renkema, Stapel, Maringer, and van Yperen (2008) showed that understanding, rather than self enhancement, is often the principal motivation of individuals after they contemplate their mortality. Specifically, these authors showed that individuals tend to form both positive and negative stereotypes of individuals. These stereotypes enable individuals to feel they can predict the behavior or inclinations of anyone else, circumventing feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity. These stereotypes are not usually intended to boost self esteem; otherwise, they would invoke negative stereotypes only.

This need to experience clarity and certainty after mortality is highlighted appreciably affects the preferences of individuals. For example, individuals become more likely to prefer leaders who are charismatic (see Charismatic leadership)--leaders who emphasize a clear, inspiring, and challenging vision of the future to ensure that everyone reaches their full potential (Cohen, Solomon, Maxfield, Pyszczynski, & Greenberg,2004; Gordijn & Stapel, 2008). They do not prefer leaders who emphasize the importance of seeking and integrating the opinion of everyone in the company and exhibiting respect and trust towards all individuals. Leaders who emphasize a clear, inspiring, and challenging vision of the future foster a sense of clarity and direction.

Loyalty to organizations

Identity with organizations may also represent a defense mechanism that alleviates existential angst. That is, mortality salience evokes positive evaluations of their organizations.

In this study, to amplify the salience of mortality, some participants were asked to consider the feelings that thoughts about their mortality evoke. In the control condition, other participants were asked to reflect upon memories of dental pain. Next, they rated essays that either praised or criticized their company. Mortality salience evoked positive evaluations of the essay that praised their company and negative evaluations of the essay that criticized their company (Jonas, Kauffeld, Sullivan, & Fritsche, 2011). In a subsequent study, mortality salience in university staff elicited positive evaluations of the university logo and university slogan (Jonas, Kauffeld, Sullivan, & Fritsche, 2011). Presumably, the university represents an enduring entity or purpose that overrides existential angst.

Brand loyalty

According to terror management theory, when their mortality is salient, individuals attempt to feel connected to some enduring movement or collective. This connection instils a sense of meaning and permanence, overriding existential angst. As Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Wong (2009) argue, strong loyalty and commitment to an enduring brand, such as Apple, could reflect an attempt of individuals to connect themselves to some enduring force.

Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Wong (2009) uncovered some evidence that support this premise. In one of their two studies, some participants were instructed to contemplate their mortality. In the control condition, participants described the emotions they feel when they listen to music. Next, participants were instructed to identify the brand of sunglasses or MP3 player they use. They were asked to indicate the degree to which they feel loyal and committed to this brand. Mortality salience increased brand commitment and loyalty, but only in individuals who value materialism. Presumably, to diminish existential threat, materialistic individuals commit to brands, whereas other individuals invoke other defense mechanisms.

Just world and meaning

Because of this need to experience a sense of certainty and clarity, many other consequences ensue. For example, after they reflect upon their mortality, individuals become especially sensitive to instances of procedural injustice (e.g., Van den Bos & Miedema, 2006). They even reject abstract art, in which meaning is ambiguous (Landau, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Martens, 2006). Furthermore, they perceive their immediate activities to be connected to some broader aspiration (Landau, Kosloff, & Schmeichel, 2010; for further evidence, see meaning in life).

Similarly, to ensure the values their community espouses are achievable, individuals like to perceive the world as fair and just. That is, as Landau, Johns, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, and Martens (2004) showed, when mortality is salient, individuals are more incline to perceive the world as just--and to assume that individuals receive the rewards and recognition they deserve.

Furthermore, mortality salience increases the likelihood that individuals want to justify the existing systems and hierarchies. Indeed, after the prospect of mortality is amplified, individuals become more inclined to blame innocent victims (Hirschberger, 2006; see also system justification theory).

Indeed, the search for meaning might, arguably, underpin the core of the defense mechanisms, evoked to curb existential angst (see Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1999). That is, when individuals become aware of their personal mortality, they want to believe they can contribute to some movement or purpose that transcends their body. They like to believe their life is invaluable to some endeavor that does not involve their mortal body. They need to feel their life is meaningful in some enduring sense.

Zeal and regulatory focus

According to McGregor, Gailliot, Vasquez, and Nash (2010), many of the defensive reactions in response to mortality salience can be ascribed to a shift from a prevention focus to a promotion focus (see Regulatory focus theory), at least when self-esteem is high. Specifically, individuals often experience a prevention focus. In this state, people strive to fulfill their immediate duties, primarily to minimize potential complications. Alternatively, individuals sometimes experience a promotion focus. In this state, individuals attempt to pursue future aspirations instead.

When exposed to a threat, such as dissolution of relationships or potential mortality, individuals may evoke a promotion focus, shifting their attention to abstract aspirations in the future rather than more immediate duties. Consequently, they can direct their attention to goals that are not obstructed by the threat. Negative emotions dissipate.

This promotion focus can, for example, explain the worldview defense, zeal, and fanaticism that mortality salience can evoke. For example, as McGregor, Gailliot, Vasquez, and Nash (2010) showed, after their mortality is salient, participants claim to be more determined to pursue their personal ideas, reminiscent of a promotion focus.

Interestingly, however, mortality salience fosters this personal zeal only in people who report a high self-esteem (McGregor, Gailliot, Vasquez, & Nash, 2010). Conceivably, if individuals do not experience a high self-esteem, they are not as confident they can achieve their personal aspirations. Consequently, they seek other defense mechanisms in response to mortality salience. Consistent with this possibility, in this set of studies, self-esteem was positively associated with a promotion focus and behavioral activation but negatively associated with a prevention focus and behavioral inhibition (McGregor, Gailliot, Vasquez, & Nash, 2010).

Support of future generations

To overcome existential angst, individuals may donate money to a charity or organization that supports future generations. These donations may enable people to feel their legacy is enduring. Similarly, these donations ensure that individuals feel connected to some enduring pursuit or endeavor.

This possibility was proposed and substantiated by Wade-Benzoni, Tost, Hernandez, and Larrick (2012). In one study, participants read one of two articles. The first article described a person who was killed in a plane crash, amplifying the salience of mortality. The second article merely described a Russian mathematician who performed a remarkable feat. Next, participants were asked to donate money to some charity. Some participants were informed the charity fulfills the immediate needs of the community. Other participants were informed the charity creates lasting improvements to the community and, therefore, is devoted to future generations as well. Mortality salience increased donations, but only to the charity that creates lasting improvements.

In a second study, participants imagined they were a manager of an organization, granted access to some energy source. They could decide their organization could utilize all these resources. Alternatively, depending on the condition, they could allocate some of these resources to another company now, to another company in the future, or to their own company in the future. All these alternatives offered a benefit: These organizations could utilize the resources more efficiently. Mortality salience increased the likelihood that participants would allot resources to another company in the future but not to another company now or to their own company in the future. Perhaps, allotting resources to another company in the future was perceived as a more enduring legacy, diminishing existential angst.

Nostalgia

According to Routledge, Arndt, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2008), nostalgic reflections might also represent a defense mechanism, alleviating existential terror. In particular, nostalgic reflections might reinforce a sense of meaning (see also Nostalgia). When individuals experience nostalgia, they direct their attention towards meaningful events in the past--events that imbue life with a sense of purpose. As a consequence, when mortality is salient, their life still seems meaningful and purposeful rather than trivial and ephemeral.

Consistent with this proposition, in the study conducted by Routledge, Arndt, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2008), some participants were exposed to an activity that reinforced their mortality. In many individuals, this mortality salience elicited the perception that life is meaningless. In individuals who demonstrate a propensity towards nostalgic reflection, mortality salience did not curb their sense of meaning.

Motivation to leave a legacy

One of key assumptions of terror management theory is that individuals, in response to reminders of death, want to establish some sense of immortality. If they cannot actually be immortal, they would like some symbol of themselves to last forever, called symbolic immortality. Therefore, in response to these reminders of death, individuals strive to leave a legacy.

One of the implications of this motivation, therefore, is that reminders of death may affect the creativity of individuals. In particular, according to Sligte, Nijstad, and De Dreu (2013), when mortality is salient, people may become more creative on tasks that could generate a legacy. However, they may become less creative in other circumstances, because they like to defend, rather than to challenge, their worldviews.

Sligte, Nijstad, and De Dreu (2013) conducted a series of studies that verify this possibility. In the first study, to prime mortality salience, some participants contemplated either their death; in the control group, participants contemplated a visit to the dentist. Then, they completed an instrument that assesses mood. Next, they completed a creative task, in which they needed to generate the name of an iguana at a local zoo. They were informed the best name will be posted near the enclosure of this lizard. Before completing this task, to manipulate the possibility of a legacy, they were told the iguana would live either about 1 year or about 100 years.

If the iguana was likely to live 100 years or so, and thus a legacy was possible, mortality salience actually enhanced creativity. That is, their solutions were more original rather than similar to the names that other people suggested. In contrast, If the iguana was likely to live only 1 year or so, mortality salience impaired creativity.

A subsequent study showed that mortality salience, coupled with the prospect of generating a legacy, improved originality only if the participants felt their ideas would be socially valued, consistent with terror management theory. The final study showed this pattern of observations is more pronounced in people who are more individualistic and, therefore, cannot depend on their community to experience symbolic immortality.

Self esteem

Mortality salience does not always promote intolerance to alternative and conflicting opinions. For example, after individuals were informed that tolerance is valued in society, mortality salience did not provoke resistance to conflicting perspectives (Greenberg, Simon, Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Chatel, 1992). Their need to fulfill the values of society offset the urge to maintain clarity. This need to fulfill the values of society represents self esteem.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that individuals strive to enhance their self esteem, engaging in behaviors that perceive as desirable for example, after they reflect upon their mortality (e.g., Harmon-Jones, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, McGregor, 1997). In particular, individuals are more inclined derogate another person, or engage in other strategies that boost their relative standing, after their mortality is highlighted (Arndt & Greenberg,1999; for a review, see Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004). To illustrate, they estimate they will be fit in the future (Arndt, Schimel, & Goldenberg, 2003).

Ferraro, Shiv, and Bettman (2005) also uncovered observations that verify the proposition that mortality salience incites behaviors that boost self esteem. In this study, female participants answered questions that assess the extent to which they derive their self esteem from their appearance. Next, their mortality was highlighted. Finally, they were granted the opportunity to choose between consuming fruit salad or chocolate cake.

Consistent with terror management theory, after their mortality was emphasized, women who largely derive self esteem from appearance were more likely to engage in behaviors that might improve this feature: they chose fruit salad rather than chocolate cake. Women who do not significantly derive self esteem from appearance chose the chocolate cake instead.

Arguably, when individuals feel their self esteem is elevated, they feel they will be valued by their society. Accordingly, they feel connected to an enduring entity, affording a sense of symbolic immortality and alleviating existential anxiety (Gailliot, Stillman,Schmeichel, Maner, & Plant, 2008).

Conversely, an elevation in self esteem alleviates the salience of mortality. For example, after individuals receive favorable feedback, after completing a personality test, they experience less anxiety in response to a video about death (Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, Rosenblatt, Burling, Lyon, & Simon, 1992).

Self esteem and social behavior

Similarly, to boost self esteem, individuals become more inclined to fulfill the social norms of the community--to enact behaviors that are regarded as desirable--after they contemplate their mortality. For example, in materialistic societies, individuals feel a powerful motivation to accrue possessions, which confers a sense of greed(Kasser & Sheldon, 2000). Presumably, this behavior complies with societal norms and thus boosts self esteem. Likewise, when they are informed that helping is prevalent in their society, individuals become more inclined to help a stranger when their mortality is salient (Gailliot, Stillman, Schmeichel, Maner, & Plant, 2008).

Furthermore, perhaps to boost self esteem, individuals are more likely to derogate other social groups after they contemplate their mortality (e.g., McGregor, Lieberman, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, Simon, & Pyszczynski, 1998). They also become more inclined to like anyone in their social or workgroup--to perceive their social or workgroup as superior (See, & Petty, R. 2006). This need to boost self esteem seems to prevail when individuals experience a sense of competition between groups in concert with a threat to their mortality (e.g., Renkema, Stapel, Maringer, & van Yperen, 2008).

Personal versus collective self-esteem

According to terror management theory, individuals strive to reinforce the belief that symbols of their life, such as their achievements, will be immortal. To reinforce this belief, they like to believe they have achieved elevated standards, manifesting as self-esteem. Therefore, in response to reminders of death, individuals tend to inflate their self-esteem.

However, which facets of self-esteem they inflate varies across cultures. In Western cultures, individual achievements are more likely to be valued. Consequently, when mortality is salient in these cultures, people should be more inclined to inflate their personal competence. In many Asian cultures, strong relationships with people and the community are more likely to be valued. Therefore, when mortality is salient in these cultures, people should be more inclined to inflate the degree to which they are liked.

These possibilities were proposed and validated by Du, Jonas, Klackl, Agroskin, Hui, and Ma (2013). For example, in one study, participants first completed a measure that assesses the degree to which they perceive themselves as competent--the Rosenberg Self Esteem scale--and then a measure that assesses the degree to which they perceive themselves as liked by friends and relatives, epitomized by items like "I am a worthy member of my circle of friends". Next, participants were asked to describe their thoughts and feelings about their death, to prime mortality salience, or to describe TV shows they watched. Finally, participants were asked to evaluate an essay that either criticizes or supports their culture.

Overall, after mortality was primed, individuals were more inclined to reject the essay that criticized their culture, called worldview defence. However, when the study was conducted in China, in a culture that often values relationships over personal achievements, people who felt they are liked by friends and relatives did not show this worldview defence. Presumably, these participants already felt their lives would be valued in the future, instilling symbolic immortality, diminishing the need to defend their worldview. In contrast, when the study was conducted in Austria, in a culture that often values personal achievements over relationships, people who felt they were very competent did not show this worldview defence. Presumably, these individuals already felt their lives would be valued in the future, instilling symbolic immortality.

Interestingly, even in China, people who felt valued by their community, instead of their friends and family, were still as likely to exhibit the effects of mortality salience. Therefore, relational self-esteem seems more important than community self-esteem in this culture.

Exploration and meaning

Creative activities and exploration of opportunities might also represent a defensive response, which evolved to alleviate existential terror. To illustrate, mortality salience usually evokes adverse reactions to authors that derogate the nation in which participants reside. Nevertheless, in one study, if individuals had been granted the opportunity to engage in a creative task, this aversion to derogatory opinions dissipated (Routledge, Arndt, & Sheldon, 2004).

Thus, when mortality is salient, individuals might sometimes experience the inclination or urge to engage in creative activities. Unsurprisingly, this urge is especially pronounced if creativity is deemed as a characteristic that is valued by the culture (Routledge & Arndt, 2009). Similarly, the urge to explore other perspectives is evoked by reminders of death, but only in individuals who report a low personal need for structure. Personal need for structure represents the extent to which individuals prefer clarity and order to ambiguity and uncertainty.

To explore these issues, Vess, Routledge, Landau, and Arndt (2009) conducted a series of studies. As they showed, when personal need for structure is elevated, individuals tended to perceive their life as more meaningful, rejecting items such as "Life has no meaning or purpose", after they reflected upon their mortality. When personal need for structure was low, however, individuals tended to perceive their life as less meaningful after their mortality was reinforced.

In subsequent studies, Vess, Routledge, Landau, and Arndt (2009) showed that individuals are more receptive to exploring other cultures and concepts after their mortality is reinforced--but only if their personal need for structure is low. In other words, when personal need for structure is low, exploration of complexities rather than a perception of meaning and coherence tends to follow mortality salience.

According to Vess, Routledge, Landau, and Arndt (2009), when need for structure is high, individuals seek clear and unambiguous representations of the world to affirm a sense of meaning and purpose. In contrast, when need for structure is low, individuals seek alternative routes to affirm this sense of meaning and purpose. Specifically, meaning is derived from an exploration of novel opportunities and perspectives.

Undesirable self

When individuals become aware of their most undesirable features--the features they demonstrate at their worst--they experience many of the manifestations of mortality salience. They reinforce their worldviews, rejecting alternative perspectives. In addition, accessibility of words associated with death become more salient (Ogilvie, Cohen, & Solomon, 2008).

In particular, according to Ogilvie, Cohen, and Solomon (2008), when individuals reflect upon their traits and characteristics at their worst, they consider instances in which their social roles were impeded. Their marriage or job, for example, might be threatened. When these social roles are obstructed, individuals are less inclined to feel their life contributes to some broader meaning. They will, therefore, become more susceptible to existential anxiety. Mechanisms that override this anxiety are thus elicited.

Ogilvie, Cohen, and Solomon (2008) undertook two studies to confirm these propositions. In the first study, some participants were asked to consider their mortality. Some participants described their life, both in the past and in the future, at their worst. Some participants described their life at their best. Finally, in the control condition, participants described an exam. Next, all participants read a patriotic speech. If mortality was salient, or if participants imagined themselves at their worst, they were more inclined to evaluate this speech favorably. That is, images of the self at worst, in contrast to images of the self at best, elicited attempts in participants to reinforce their worldview.

In the second study, the same conditions were administered. However, participants complete a measure of death accessibility. For example, they had to complete fragments, like COFF--. These fragments could be completed with words that relate to death, like coffin, or with words that do not relate to death, like coffee. Again, If mortality was salient, or if participants imagined themselves at their worst, thoughts associated with death were especially accessible.

Detachment from the group

To increase their self-esteem in response to mortality salience, some people will distance or detach themselves from a maligned group. For example, after reading an excerpt about the problems and shortcomings of their university, students may become disinclined to identify with this institution to preserve their self-esteem--especially after their mortality has been primed.

However, after their group is maligned, some individuals do not distance or detach themselves from this community, even after their mortality has been primed. Instead, they derogate or dismiss the criticisms of this group, sometimes called worldview defense. The question, then, becomes which of these two responses--detachment from the group or derogation of the criticisms--will prevail.

This matter was raised and investigated by Dechesne, Janssen, and van Knippenberg (2000). As these researchers showed, if people report a high need for closure and structure, in which they shun uncertainty, they are more inclined to derogate criticisms of their group when mortality is salient. For these individuals, the group is vital. The norms of this group clarify which behaviors people should undertake, overriding uncertainty. In contrast, if report of lower need for closure and structure, they are more inclined to distance themselves from their group when mortality is salient. These individuals can withstand the uncertainty that detachment from a group may entail.

Other manifestations of symbolic immortality

Fixation with fame

Fixation with fame may also confer a sense of symbolic immortality. That is, if individuals become famous, they feel their reputation will last after the die. Therefore, after people contemplate their mortality, they should become fixated on fame. They may also become more inclined to worship celebrities: That is, they might identify themselves with celebrities to experience this sense of fame vicariously.

Greenberg, Kosloff, Solomon, Cohen, and Landau (2010) undertook a series of studies that corroborate these arguments. In this study, some participants were encouraged to contemplate the thoughts and feelings their mortality evokes. In the other control condition, participants reflected upon intense pain instead. Later, participants answered questions that gauge the extent to which they would like to be famous. Mortality salience amplified this need to be famous.

The other studies extended this finding. For example, as the second study showed, after people contemplate their mortality, they experience a strong desire for a galaxy to be named after them. The third study showed that individuals, after contemplating their mortality, are more likely to like abstract art that is attributed to a celebrity.

Belief in progress

According to Rutjens, van der Pligt, and Harreveld (2009), the belief that society will improve and advance in the future may also resolve existential angst. Specifically, according to terror management theory, to resolve existential angst, individuals like to feel they will persist symbolically even after they die. That is, they like to believe their contributions will last indefinitely and their life is meaningful. To fulfill this need, individuals need to assume that society is progressively improving; otherwise, all their efforts are actually immaterial rather than meaningful.

Rutjens, van der Pligt, and Harreveld (2009) conducted a series of studies to verify this argument. In the first study, for example, to increase the salience of mortality, individuals were exposed to words that are synonymous with death, embedded in a word completion task. In the control condition, individuals were not exposed to these words. Next, all participants read an essay, in which the author argued that progress is an illusion. If participants had been exposed to words that are synonymous with death, they were more likely to disagree with this essay. That is, they were inclined to assume that progress is real.

In another study, after mortality salience was manipulated, participants received a word completion task, designed to ascertain whether or not words associated with death were especially accessible. Unsurprisingly, mortality salience increased the accessibility of words related to death as well as evoked other common reactions, such as worldview defense. However, if participants had earlier read an essay that substantiates the progress of society, these reactions to mortality salience dissipated. These findings show that a sense of progress overrides the activation of other defenses to existential threat.

Perceived control

According to Fritsche, Jonas, and Frankhanel (2008), many if not all of the defensive responses to existential angst can be ascribed to the need to cultivate a sense of control. That is, from this perspective, mortality salience compromises this perception of control. Consequently, individuals attempt to compensate in some sense.

For example, to cultivate a perception of control, individuals like to feel they are closely aligned to some group or collective. Consequently, even after the perish, they feel this group will pursue their objectives and fulfill their vales, representing a form of control. This alignment to a group will manifest as a worldview defense.

In one study, conducted by Fritsche, Jonas, and Frankhanel (2008), two different procedures to prime mortality salience were compared. In one condition, participants imagined they were suffering from an incurable disease. They were told they will die one month after contracting this disease and were instructed to specify the emotions this death arouses. In the other condition, participants imagined they were suffering from an incurable disease that could be very painful. To override this pain, they decide to die themselves, before contemplating the emotions this scenario evokes. Hence, this condition incorporated a sense of control. Next, a measure of social consensus was included. That is, participants specified their favorite two topics before indicating the proportion of students they assume would also enjoy these topics. Finally, the degree to which they accept a speech that supports or challenges their gender was evaluated.

Relative to people who did not experience a sense of control when they imagined their death, people who did experience a sense of control when they imagined their death did not demonstrate the established effects of mortality salience. They did not inflate the extent to which they believe other people share their interest. They were not especially likely to dismiss a position that challenges their gender. A subsequent study also showed that sense of control in participants also curbed the traditional effect of mortality salience on biases towards their nationality. That is, participants tended to perceive their nation as homogenous and cohesive after mortality was primed, but only if no sense of control was bestowed (Fritsche, Jonas, & Frankhanel, 2008).

One alternative account is that death, when coupled with a sense of choice, does not actually prime mortality. Nevertheless, like death in which no control is bestowed, death in which some control is bestowed did increase the accessibility of words that relate to death, as measured by a lexical decision task (Fritsche, Jonas, & Frankhanel, 2008).

Furthermore, reflections about death in which no control is bestowed were more likely than reflections about death in which some control is bestowed to activate the motivation to reinforce control. That is, as measured by an implicit association test, if no control was bestowed, participants were likely to associate the words I, my, and mine, with powerless, helpless, and lack of control (Fritsche, Jonas, & Frankhanel, 2008).

In the final study, mortality salience and a sense of control were both manipulated. That is, some participants imagined they would die and other participants imagined that a relationship had terminated. Furthermore, participants imagined they had either chosen or not chosen the action. A sense of control, but not mortality salience, influenced the likelihood that participants would support a political party that aligns with their political goals. That is, participants who did not feel the need to restore their control were not as inclined to show this bias.

Similarly, Kay, Gaucher, Callan, and Laurin (2008) proposed a model called compensatory control (see also Laurin, Kay, & Moscovitch, 2008). From this perspective, individuals seek control to ensure the world does not seem random and unpredictable. If their sense of control diminishes, they could pursue other avenues to perceive the world as predictable rather than erratic. They could, for example, espouse the belief that structures are fair, called system justification. Thus, system justification does not represent a means to cultivate a sense of control, but an alternative opportunity to instill a sense of order instead of chaos. Mortality salience curbs a sense of control and thus might provoke endorsement of the prevailing systems.

Rutjens and Loseman (2010) challenged the argument that defensive responses to mortality salience merely emanate from the decline in control. They demonstrated that contexts that curb a sense of control, such as exhaustion, do not evoke the same responses as mortality salience. As a sense of control diminishes, individuals attempt to compensate, sometimes by endorsing the prevailing system. In contrast, in response to mortality salience, individuals are more inclined to endorse a cause that instills a sense of meaning--a purpose that transcends their personal mortality.

In this study, some individuals were exposed to a task that diminishes a sense of control; they undertook a task that demands appreciable concentration, depleting energy from a limited supply (see ego depletion). Other participants considered their mortality. Finally, some participants did not complete any of these two exercises.

Afterwards, participants completed various measures. First, the PANAS was administered to measure their mood and to instill a delay between the conditions and the primary measures. Second, they undertook a task that determines whether or not the concept of death was accessible. Third, they completed a measure that assesses the degree to which they endorse the prevailing system, such as "Most policies serve the greatest good". Finally, they expressed their attitudes to someone who wrote an essay that challenges their society--a measure of worldview defense.

When individuals experienced a diminished sense of control, rather than an awareness of death, they were more likely to endorse the prevailing system. They did not defend their worldviews. In contrast, when individuals were instead aware of their death, they did defend their worldviews.

Thus, the effects of mortality salience cannot be reduced to a need to maintain control. Instead, according to Rutjens and Loseman (2010), mortality salience evokes responses that are intended to instill a sense of meaning and purpose beyond their mortal life. That is, they strive to contribute to some pursuit that transcends their mortality. Indeed, if individuals are not alive, a sense of control is futile. In contrast, a limited sense of control elicits a need to perceive the world as predictable.

Other studies also indicate that threats to mortality salience do not elicit the same responses as threats to control. In one study, reported by Shepherd, Kay, Landau, and Keefer (2011), some participants were asked to consider the feelings and thoughts that are evoked by contemplation of their death, representing mortality salience. Other participants were asked to reflect upon a time in which some events that unfolded were beyond their control, to highlight limited control. Next, all participants read a speech that was presented by a candidate of a forthcoming election. In some instances, the candidate highlighted the importance of order. That is, this person emphasized the world is often uncertain and, therefore, more order and stability in the economy is vital. In other instances, the candidate highlighted a more enduring vision, emphasizing the importance of future generations.

If mortality salience was evoked, participants preferred the candidate who emphasized more enduring values and future generations. If limited control was salient, participants preferred the candidate who emphasized order and stability. Accordingly, distinct mechanisms, such as recognition of enduring pursuits or a sense of order, overcome different threats.

Literal immortality

After individuals contemplate their own mortality, they attempt to connect themselves with an enduring entity, conferring a symbolic form of immortality. Alternatively, to override existential anxiety, individuals are more inclined to assume that some facet of themselves, perhaps their soul, is immortal. They do, for example, become more inclined to believe in an afterlife (Dechesne et al., 2006).

In addition, they might attempt to convince themselves they are protected from some spiritual source. For example, after their mortality is underscored, individuals who report an external locus of control engage actually in more risky behaviors (Miller & Mulligan,2002). This behavior might be intended to vindicate this protection.

Religion

Many researchers maintain that a variety of religious tenets, such as the belief in an afterlife, represent defense mechanisms, intended to curb existential anxiety (Norenzayan & Hansen, 2006). One determinant of religious beliefs--the assumption that competition to secure a romantic partner is steep--could possibly be ascribed to this mechanism (for other determinants, see Boyer, 2003; Kirkpatrick, 1999).

Specifically, in a study conducted by Li, Cohen, Weeden, and Kenrick (2010), participants observed a series of dating profiles. In each instance, photograph depicted an attractive person. For some participants, the dating profiles represented individuals of the same sex. For other participants, the dating profiles represented individuals of the opposite sex. Next, participants answered a series of questions, like "I believe in God", all intended to establish their religious beliefs.

If participants observed attractive individuals of their own sex, instead of the opposite sex, they were more likely to espouse religious beliefs. According to Li, Cohen, Weeden, and Kenrick (2010), these participants begin to recognize the prospects of mates are scarce, because competition is elevated. Perhaps, as a defense mechanism, they adopt beliefs that are intended to restrict sex in competitors. Many religious beliefs do indeed restrict sex. They might also adopt other beliefs that curb competition; women, for example, often criticize the sexual promiscuity of other women (e.g., Baumesiter & Vohs, 2004).

Nevertheless, this finding can be ascribed to terror management. The pursuit of offspring is considered a defense mechanism to curb existential anxiety (Wisman & Goldenberg, 2005). Mating competition can reduce the likelihood of offspring and thus preclude this defense. Religious beliefs can be regarded as an alternative defense mechanism in these instances, sometimes underscoring the possibility of literal immortality.

Emotional regulation

Suppression of death

Research also indicates that mortality salience impairs the capacity of individuals to curb their impulses, regulate their emotions, and motivate themselves. For example, after individuals contemplate their mortality, they tend to be less persistent on difficult tasks, such as anagrams (Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2006). This finding indicates that mortality salience might elicit attempts to suppress the thoughts or feelings that relate to death, and this suppression consumes resources that are usually devoted to curbing other impulses. Individuals, therefore, are less able to suppress their impulse to relax, for example.

Consistent with this premise, DeWall and Baumeister (2007) showed that, immediately after individuals contemplate their own death, imagining their dead body for example, their mood actually improves. In particular, after mortality becomes salient, individuals inadvertently focus their attention and memory on pleasant images, which enhances their mood.

Risky decision making

An awareness of mortality has also been shown to elicit risky decisions. In one study, participants were asked either to write about their own death or merely to write about dental pain. Next, they completed the Iowa gambling task (see Measures of risky decision making). If participants had written about their death, their decisions were riskier. That is, they chose the alternative that usually generates a reasonable gain but occasionally incurs a massive loss and, thus, is not optimal.

Presumably, according to terror management theory, when individuals become aware of their mortality, defense mechanisms that inhibit the likelihood of death and other problems are evoked. Consequently, they often direct attention to their invulnerability, diverting their focus from threats and complications. These individuals, therefore, might disregard the probable costs, but instead focus unduly on the possible gains, of a decision (Hart, Schwabach, & Solomon, 2010).

Anxiety buffering

Consistent with terror management theory, research has also revealed that mechanisms that purportedly curb existential anxiety, such as boosting self esteem, should alleviate vulnerability to threats. That is, when these mechanisms are activated, individuals should experience a sense of durability or permanence, ultimately nullifying their sensitivity to events that could threaten their life. Consistent with this premise, self esteem has been found to diminish the physiological arousal that ensues in response to the threat of an electric shock (Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, Rosenblatt, Burling, Lyon, &Simon, 1992); Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Pinel, Simon, &Jordan, 1993).

Certainly, when these mechanisms are inhibited, thoughts about death become more accessible. For example, when close relationships are threatened (Mikulincer, Florian, & Hirschberger, 2003), the world seems unjust (Hirschberger, 2006), or religious or nationalistic beliefs are undermined (Schimel, Hayes, Williams, & Jahrig, 2006), thoughts about death are more salient. That is, individuals become more like to recognize words they associate with death rapidly.

Mindfulness

Niemiec, Brown, Kashdan, Cozzolino, Breen, Levesque-Bristol, and Ryan (2010) showed that mindfulness curbs the usual effects of mortality salience (see mindfulness). That is, some individuals can readily maintain awareness of their feelings, sensations, and environment, called trait mindfulness. When individuals exhibit trait mindfulness, they process information about themselves in a balanced, considered, and insightful manner. Because of this mindset, feelings of anxiety are not as likely to initiate a series of defensive responses. The usual responses to mortality salience, such as defense of worldviews and self esteem striving, will tend to dissipate.

Niemiec, Brown, Kashdan, Cozzolino, Breen, Levesque-Bristol, and Ryan (2010) undertook a series of studies to substantiate these premises. In one study, some participants were encouraged to consider their mortality. Furthermore, the extent to which American participants subsequently preferred presentations that vindicate, rather than question, their nation was assessed--a measure of worldview defense. If individuals reported elevated levels of trait mindfulness, in which they disagreed with questions like "I find myself doing things without paying attention", the usual worldview defense in response to mortality salience diminished. That is, participants who maintain awareness of their feelings, sensations, and environment did not act defensively in response to mortality salience.

Subsequent studies extended this finding. Usually, mortality salience elicits harsh attitudes towards anyone who violates regulations. Again, if trait mindfulness was elevated, this punitive response diminished (Niemiec, Brown, Kashdan, Cozzolino, Breen, Levesque-Bristol, & Ryan, 2010). A further study examined whether trait mindfulness affects the inclination of individuals to enhance their self esteem, called self esteem striving, in response to mortality salience. To illustrate, if individuals report positive attitudes toward their body, they engage in acts that emphasize this quality, such as physical sex, rather than other acts, such as the formation of a personal connections. As hypothesized, when trait mindfulness was elevated, this preference for physical sex over personal connection in participants who report positive attitudes toward their body diminished.

The final studies examined the mechanisms that underpinned these effects. Specifically, as these studies showed, when trait mindfulness was elevated, participants spent more time writing about their mortality. Thoughts about death were also more accessible in these individuals (Niemiec, Brown, Kashdan, Cozzolino, Breen, Levesque-Bristol, & Ryan, 2010). These findings indicate that participants did not evoke defense mechanisms to circumvent existential anxiety.

Methodological considerations

Manipulations of mortality salience

Several protocols can be followed to manipulate mortality salience. First, participants can be instructed to write about the emotions they experience when they reflect upon their own death. In addition, they can be asked to imagine what would happen to them as they physically die (e.g., Gailliot, Stillman, Schmeichel, Maner, & Plant, 2008; Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Lyon, 1989). In the control conditions, participants write an essay about a stressful event that is unrelated to death, such as dental pain.

Alternatively, to activate mortality salience, Gailliot, Stillman, Schmeichel, Maner, and Plant (2008) approached participants who were strolling near a cemetery. In the control condition, participants were approached in a car park. A similar manipulation was utilized by Pyszczynski, Wicklund, Floresku, Gauch, Koch, Solomon, and Greenberg (1996). In their study, some interviews were convened near a funeral parlor, intended to represent mortality salience. This manipulation increased the perceived level of social consensus, assumed to reinforce the worldview of participants.

Furthermore, to activate mortality salience, in a study conducted by Arndt, Greenberg, Simon, Pyszczynski, and Solomon (1998), participants completed a scale in which they are asked 15 questions about death, such as "Do you worry about dying". In a control condition, participants completed questions that assess their uncertainty about the future, such as "I am really scared about what might happen in the future" (see also Vess, Routledge, Landau, & Arndt, 2009).

Scope of mortality

In most studies, individuals consider their own mortality only. In contrast, Agustin (2009) reported a study in which participants were instructed to reflect upon the mortality of themselves or a broader community. Specifically, some participants were asked to imagine that a cinema was bombed and they as well as other patrons were killed. Some participants were instead asked to imagine that a meteor destroyed the planet and every human perished. Finally, some participants imagined they personally were diagnosed with terminal cancer and would soon die. In each condition, after participants formed this image, the considered the feelings and thoughts they would consider during this moment of death as well as the sensations they would experience.

Later, after completing a measure of mood, they were presented with a task that actually assessed biases against ethnic communities. They were asked, for example, to specify the extent to which they value and sympathize with various ethnicities, such as Africans, Arabs, Jews, Gypsies, and their own constituency, on a seven point scale.

Interestingly, when individuals imagined the patrons of a cinema had been killed they showed the traditional bias against other ethnicities. They did not evaluate these ethnicities favorably. In contrast, when individuals imagined the entire human race was annihilated, they did not show this prejudice. Presumably, individuals felt they experienced the same event as everyone else. They did not perceive other ethnicities, therefore, as out-groups, curbing the traditional biases.

As an aside, when individuals imagined they were diagnosed with terminal cancer, they also did not demonstrate this bias. Conceivably, thoughts that relate cancer to death could evoke rational rather than experiential thinking, and this style tends to curb the effects of mortality salience.

Hence, one of the practical implications is that individuals, from many communities, should sometimes be assembled to discuss disasters that could affect everyone, such as global warming. This common threat can reduce biases against other ethnicities.

Experiential mode

Mortality salience does not always, but usually, elicits the outcomes that are predicted by terror management theory. Nevertheless, several conditions need to be satisfied before these anticipated outcomes emerge. For example, individuals are usually asked to rely on their intuition and instincts and not consider issues carefully. In other words, mortality salience is more likely to affect behavior when individuals operate in an experiential mode (e.g., McGregor, Lieberman, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, Simon, & Pyszczynski, 2006).

Delay after mortality salience is activated

Furthermore, the effects of mortality salience are most pronounced if the concept of death is accessible but outside the realm of awareness. To fulfill this condition, researchers insert a delay between mortality salience and subsequent measures of key outcomes.

To illustrate, after mortality was reinforced in participants, Vess, Routledge, Landau, and Arndt (2009) administered a word search task before the key outcome--meaning in life--was assessed. This task ensured that death was still accessible but outside the realm of awareness.

Controversies and alternative models

Evolutionary benefits of anxiety buffering Leary and Schreindorfer (1997) challenge the evolutionary benefits that terror management theory affords. The crux of terror management theory is that many psychological mechanisms and states evolved to confer a buffer against perceived threats. Leary and Schreindorfer argue that such a buffer, effectively promoting a denial of some threats, should diminish the likelihood of survival. Hence, they question whether these mechanisms would have evolved merely to stem existential anxiety.

Some findings, usually ascribed to terror management theory, can also be explained by other models. One example is the meaning maintenance model (Proulx & Heine, 2006, 2008, 2009). In essence, according to this model, when one source of meaning is obstructed, other sources of meaning are bolstered (for criticisms of the meaning maintenance model, see Pyszcynski, Greenberg, Solomon, & Maxfield, 2006).

Mortality versus other threats

Originally, researchers argued that many of the reactions to mortality salience, such as derogation of other groups, were not evoked by other stressful events. These responses, thus, were perceived as specific attempts to override existential anxiety.

Nevertheless, over recent years, researchers have discovered that some other stressful or threatening events can elicit the same responses as does mortality salience (for a review, see McGregor, 2006). For example, personal uncertainty, cognitive dissonance, separation from attachment figures, loneliness, meaninglessness, and system injustice all evoke similar reactions as does mortality salience. Other personal threats, such as dental pain, do not elicit these reactions.

According to McGregor, Gailliot, Vasquez, and Nash (2010), the common theme that evokes these defensive reactions is the event undermines an abstract, encompassing goal, such as the need to form relationships. When these abstract and encompassing goals are obstructed, a vast range of related tasks and targets are also impeded, eliciting negative emotions.

Likewise, Martens, Burke, Schimel, and Faucher (2011) undertook a meta-analysis to ascertain whether the effects of mortality salience mirror the effects of threats to meaning or certainty. In general, mortality salience, threats to meaning, and threats to certainty evoked similar defensive reactions. However, after a short delay, the effects of mortality salience on defensive reactions tended to amplify, whereas the effects of threats to meaning and certainty tended to diminish.

The scarcity heuristic

According to King, Hicks, and Abdelkhalik (2009), some of the immediate reactions to a heightened awareness of mortality might not represent defensive responses. Instead, these reactions could represent a response to the scarcity heuristic.

Specifically, after individuals reflect upon their mortality, they become more aware that life is scarce or bounded. Individuals tend to inflate the perceived value of scarce commodities or entities, called the scarcity heuristic (see Dai, Wertenbroch, & Brendl, 2008). Hence, after their mortality is underscored, individuals perceive their life as both scarce and valuable. They perceive their life as meaningful and satisfying.

In one study, while completing some puzzle, some participants were exposed to works that relate to death, such as tombstone. Other participants were exposed to words that relate to pain, as a control condition. Next, they answered questions that relate to their perceived purpose, meaning, and satisfaction in life. When death, rather than pain, was primed, participants perceived their life as more purposeful, meaningful, and satisfying.

Conceivably, after death was primed, life was perceived as more scarce and thus valuable, manifested as purpose and meaning (King, Hicks, & Abdelkhalik, 2009). Nevertheless, this sense of purpose and meaning could, instead, represent a defense mechanism, evoked by the salience of mortality, consistent with terror management theory.

Two subsequent studies, however, uncovered results that cannot be reconciled as readily with terror management theory or related frameworks such as the meaning-maintenance model (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). In this study, the value of human life was manipulated. Some participants, for example, were told the monetary value of human organs is $45 million for each person. Other participants were told the monetary value of chemicals in the body is $4.50. Next, all participants completed a task that determines the accessibility of thoughts related to death. They received incomplete words, like coff--, which could represent either coffin or coffee.

If human life was depicted as valuable, participants were more likely to identify words that relate to death. In other words, death was more accessible. These findings can be ascribed to the association between value and scarcity. According to the converse of the scarcity hypothesis, valuable commodities are assumed to be scarce, called the value heuristic (Dai, Wertenbroch, & Brendl, 2008). Hence, human life, when portrayed as valuable, will be regarded as scarce. Individuals, thus, will become more aware of their inevitable death.

Implications of terror management theory

Religious fundamentalism

According to Pyszczynski, Solomon, and Greenberg (2003), religious fundamentalism might protect individuals from the experience of existential threat. First, many religious ideologies underscore the possibility of an afterlife--which thus instills a sense of literal immortality. This ideology, thus, can curb the existential terror that an awareness of mortality can evoke.

Second, these religious beliefs are accepted without question. Hence, the worldview of individuals, which is a system of values and beliefs that afford a sense of meaning and purpose, is seldom challenged. When this worldview is challenged, individuals feel more threatened by the awareness of their mortality, because this principal defense is fragile.

Some evidence confirms the association between awareness of mortality and religious fundamentalism (see Atran & Norenzayan, 2004; Friedman & Rholes, 2009; Norenzayan & Hansen, 2006). First, after individuals contemplate their mortality, they become more inclined to belief in the existence of supernatural agents such as divine beings (Norenzayan & Hansen, 2006; see also Atran & Norenzayan, 2004).

Second, Pyszczynski, Abdollahi, Solomon, Greenberg, Cohen, and Weise (2006) conducted an interesting study in Iran. In their study, the awareness of mortality was augmented in some of the Islamic students. After their mortality was amplified, these students we more inclined to approve martyrdom against the USA.

Third, as shown by Friedman and Rholes (2009), when individuals espouse religious fundamentalism, other defense mechanisms do not need to be evoked as readily when mortality is salient. To illustrate, an interdependent self construal, in which individuals feel connected to a broader entity, seems to curb death awareness. That is, this sense of connection affords individuals with a sense of meaning and permanence that curbs existential anxiety. This benefit of an interdependent self construal, however, was not observed in individuals who espouse religious fundamentalism.

These studies imply that religious fundamentalism might instill a worldview that protects individuals from existential threat. In this context, according to Altemeyer and Hunsberger (1992), several principles differentiate religious fundamentalism from other belief systems.

First, religious fundamentalists assume the teachings of their religion represent a fundamental, immutable, core, inerrant truth about humanity and deity. Second, they assume that forces of evil, which must be contested, oppose or obscure this truth. Third, this truth must be followed unconditionally, with practices that were implemented in the past. Fourth, when this truth is followed, disciplines assume they will experience a special relationship with the deity (see also Pargament, 2002).

Safety training

Safety training should be conducted towards the end of working day. That is, individuals should not have to undertake difficult tasks after sessions in which their mortality is highlighted. That is, after safety training, in which mortality is underscored, individuals are less able to curb their impulses and persist on difficult tasks (Gailliot, Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2006).

Persuasion and leadership Sometimes, individuals want to exploit stereotypes. They might be labeled as CEO, and want to exploit the stereotype that CEOs are powerful or informed. In these instances, they should refer to impending dangers or threats (Tordera, Gonzalez-Roma, & Peiro, 2008).

Smoking

Terror management theory implies that some warnings on cigarette packs could be ineffective--and might even reinforce smoking. Specifically, some individuals feel that smoking enhances their self esteem. According to terror management theory, messages that amplify the possibility of death promote behaviors that enhance self esteem. Thus, if individuals derive self esteem from smoking, cigarette packages that underscore the health hazards of this behavior should deter, rather than encourage, abstinence.

Hansen, Winzeler, and Topolinski (2010) conducted a study that substantiates this argument. Participants completed a series of questions that ascertain whether or not individuals derive self esteem from smoking. They were, for example, asked whether smoking increases the extent to which they feel liked or valued by other individuals.

Next, some participants were exposed to cigarette packages that reinforce the health hazards of smoking, such as "Smoking leads to lung cancer". Other participants were exposed to cigarette packages that underscore adverse consequences that are unrelated to death, such as "Smoking makes you unattractive". Finally, participants answered questions that ascertained their intention to smoke in the future.

If participants maintained they do not derive self esteem from smoking, the warnings about death were more likely to deter smoking in the future than warnings unrelated to death. In contrast, and consistent with terror management theory, if participants maintained they do derive self esteem from smoking, the warnings about death were less likely to deter smoking in the future.

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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008

Related objectives:
- The sociometer hypothesis - Evolutionary neuroandrogenic theory - Terror management theory - Approach and avoidance motivation - Savanna-IQ interaction hypothesis - Life history theory -


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